Suddenly, a Family Doesn't Feel as Safe

COMMENT

August 07, 1994|By BRIAN SULLAM

On July 10, Le Naya Crandall found out that gunfire in Carroll can be as dangerous as the gunfire on the streets of Baltimore.

On that hot Sunday afternoon, Le Naya, a vivacious 9-year-old who will be a fifth grader at Hampstead Elementary School, was jumping on her trampoline in her backyard.

Charlie, her five-year-old German Shepherd, had been running around the yard, but he had loped off to a nearby soybean field.

Her mother was inside the family's white clapboard house about yards from the trampoline. She was upstairs picking up and cleaning the bedrooms.

Thomas Crandall, Le Naya's father, who had been out running errands, was driving up the dirt road that leads to the family house.

Suddenly the sound of gunfire rang out. Le Naya heard Charlie yelp. She stopped jumping and ran through the field toward a pond at the other end.

Charlie came limping toward her. A thin stream of blood was running down his front right leg. But then she noticed a large hole in Charlie's shoulder.

Le Naya began yelling that Charlie had been shot.

Cheryl Crandall, Le Naya's mother, also heard the shot. It crossed her mind that the sound was quite loud and, therefore, very close.

The next thing she heard was Le Naya hysterically yelling.

She immediately ran down the stairs and started screaming herself.

Mr. Crandall, who had also heard the gunfire, had just pulled up and was getting out of the car. He heard his wife yelling inside the house and his daughter screaming on the other side of the house near the neighbor's soybean field. He raced out of the car, thinking his family was in terrible jeopardy.

The Crandalls raced toward Le Naya. As they approached her -- and much to their relief -- they could see that she was not injured. They quickly determined, however, that Charlie's wound was serious.

They whisked Charlie off to the veterinarian. After an examination and an X-ray, the vet confirmed that Charlie had been shot. Charlie's shoulder muscle had been severed. Luckily, there was little bleeding. Charlie was sewn up the next day and put on a regimen of antibiotics.

Mr. Crandall reported the shooting to the state police, who dispatched a trooper to investigate. Upon hearing the story, he said that it was a matter for the Humane Society, not the police.

When Mr. Crandall called the Humane Society, he discovered that unless he knew who shot Charlie, the animal control officers couldn't do much either.

Three weeks later, Mr. Crandall is as disturbed by what happened after the incident as he was by the shooting itself.

The shooting took place on Donald Dell's farm. Le Naya, her friends and Charlie had always been welcome to walk to the pond and play around it. Mr. Crandall said his family has never been told they were unwelcome on the property.

Mr. Crandall spoke to Mr. Dell after the shooting and asked if he could find out who shot Charlie. Mr. Crandall also asked if Mr. Dell would pay for Charlie's vet bills.

The next time they spoke, Mr. Dell said no one on the farm knew who shot the dog. Mr. Dell also told Mr. Crandall he would not pay for Charlie's bills.

Mr. Dell, in Las Vegas at the annual meeting of the National Association of Counties, didn't return a request for his side of the story.

The law is very clear that property owners don't have an automatic right to shoot animals that wander onto their property. Only if animals are attacking livestock or threatening humans can a property owner kill an errant dog or cat.

If a person wounds such an animal, under law he is obligated to report the injury to the owner of the animal. If the owner isn't known, the Humane Society must be notified. A person who fails to notify the owner or the Humane Society about a wounded animal is violating the state's animal cruelty statutes.

Violation of these statutes is a serious offense, as David McCabe of Westminster is discovering. He is alleged to have shot a neighbor's dog on July 26. The dog died, but not before running up a considerable medical bill. The dog's owner filed a complaint against Mr. McCabe after he ignored the owner's request to pay for $815 in vet bills. If convicted, Mr. McCabe faces a fine of $1,000 and a possible jail sentence of up to 90 days.

Each year there are a handful of reported incidents in which family pets are shot by neighbors, according to Nicky Ratcliff, director of Carroll's Humane Society. There may be a lot more that don't get reported because severely wounded animals may wander into the woods to die.

Many Carroll residents believe they have the right to do as they please on their property. They don't believe the rest of society can infringe on their right to "protect" their property.

This belief runs up against the reality that Carroll is becoming more urbanized. You just can't shoot indiscriminately any more. There is a real danger that someone or someone's pet might be wandering by.

Mr. Crandall said his family is now convinced their neighborhood isn't safe for Le Naya or Charlie. When she wants to take a walk, he now accompanies her.

Le Naya said she no longer feels comfortable jumping on her trampoline: "I am so scared. I am afraid someone might shoot and kill me."

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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