James Island pet lovers wary of what may lurk Residents, deputies look for dogs blamed for recent cat deaths

Sarah King's 2-year-old son, Brooks, holds her new kitten last week, as they look outside their home in a James Island community where King said her two cats were fatally mauled in mid-April by some freely roaming dogs. She plans to keep her new cat inside.

Cats tend to survive despite hairy circumstances. Some say they have nine lives.

But three cats on James Island defied the odds more than most.

Mia was blind. She ran into doors, but she still enjoyed life. She couldn't see the sun, but she liked bathing in the light it cast on her owners' front porch.

Dory was abandoned atop the Ravenel Bridge when she was 6. A young couple scooped her up and made her their pet.

And Buttercup became the face of cats' struggle against the dogs that freely roamed James Island two years ago and preyed on their feline counterparts just for sport. She escaped death, though some cats in her neighborhood did not.

Deputies then unleashed a trapping campaign to protect cats like Buttercup, Dory and Mia.

But their stories of survival ended last month. Their owners walked outside their Clearspring Drive homes and saw fur and blood. Their bodies were riddled with teeth marks.

More than a half-dozen deaths of James Island cats have been attributed to dogs in recent months. Unlike the last bout in 2012, which was attributed to feral dogs, the perpetrators of the recent episode likely belong to someone.

Officials from the Charleston County Sheriff's Office say they are, again, doing everything they can, but they've had no luck tracking down the culprits.

In Sarah King's house, two young children feel the loss of Buttercup and Dory. King will spare them further heartache by keeping their new kitten inside.

"I hate to keep a cat confined because they love the outdoors," King said. "But in a situation like this, I've got to do what I've got to do to keep my pets safe."

Carolyn Jayko doesn't know what more she could have done to keep Simon safe.

Her cat was 14 when she let him outside her Pauline Avenue home one Thursday in February.

Around midday, dogs jumped over the 4-foot chain-link fence in Jayko's backyard, grabbed Simon and shook him until he was dead.

The dogs chased her neighbor's cat, Squeaks, through an open back door and mauled him in the garage.

The neighbor chased away the dogs, but it was too late for Squeaks.

Another neighbor later caught two dogs that, instead of hopping the fence, dug under it. Before they did more damage, Jayko said, the neighbor chased the dogs back through the hole they came from.

"I never thought I'd have to worry about dogs coming into the yard," she said. "I'm looking at these dogs as very dangerous animals."

In the two months since the Feb. 27 attacks, Jayko has launched a campaign to find the canine culprits.

She snapped a photo of two loose dogs that returned to her yard: a brown pit bull with a black collar and a tan and white boxer mix. The mutt didn't have a collar.

Jayko posted a flier in her community and at the Folly Road Animal Hospital. She hoped that someone might recognize the dogs, but her efforts have been fruitless.

She found it curious that her cat and King's cats were killed on a Thursday, the day residents set out their trash for pickup. She wondered if the smell lured the dogs.

She also wondered whether the fine for letting a dog run loose is enough to deter owners and whether the sheriff's animal control unit has the manpower to investigate the problem.

Sheriff's Maj. Eric Watson said the unit fielded only two calls about dogs attacking cats last month. Many likely went unreported. A veterinary technician also informed authorities about a feline patient that had been mauled, Watson said.

James and Johns islands have long encountered problems with strays, Watson added. Animal control deputies work during the week to investigate strays and set traps. They respond on weekends only for emergencies, he said.

"We have increased our animal control presence in the area and are making every effort to identify these dogs," Watson said. "Unfortunately, we haven't found anything."

He said a resident's report that dogs had chased some children into a lake had not been confirmed. If it were true, Watson said, the deputies would double their efforts.

Buttercup, King's cat, first posed for a photo in The Post and Courier in early August 2012.

A feral pack had killed a cat in their community near Kentwood Circle, and King's husband, Andrew, feared that Buttercup, Dory or their two small dogs would be next.

His and other accounts prompted the Sheriff's Office to send deputies into the woods and fields of James Island to set traps baited with cat food. They mapped out where the cats had been killed and where the dogs had been sighted and caught.

More than a dozen were captured by mid-September 2012. Reports of cat fatalities waned.

The Kings later moved to the Ocean Neighbors community.

Sarah King woke up April 17 to the sight of cat hair in her front yard. She looked around and couldn't find her cats.

Buttercup's body ended up across the street and four houses down Clearspring Drive. It was rigid. She was already dead.

King found Dory on her front steps. Dory was the cat that King's husband had rescued on the Ravenel Bridge.

Her back end had been bitten "by something pretty big," King said. The dogs weren't looking for a meal; they were killing and moving on.

King took Dory to the vet's office, where the cat was euthanized.

At least three other cats in her community had been fatally mauled.

Stephanie Bresnahan didn't know about James Island's past problem with feral dogs when she moved in next to King. She was new to South Carolina.

Her blind cat Mia, 7, stuck to the front or back porch.

But when Bresnahan walked outside that morning in April, she noticed signs of a struggle. Mulch was strewn about the yard. She found Mia on a neighbor's property.

"Our cat Otis ran back inside that night," Bresnahan said. "He's the lone survivor."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.