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Dog attack blamed in ‘beloved’ alpaca’s death

Panama Jack belonged to Dale and Ruth Downs and was cared for by the Downs’ daughters, Joan and Lydia, for the last six years. Panama Jack was known in the 4-H community and at the county fair.   - Contributed photo
Panama Jack belonged to Dale and Ruth Downs and was cared for by the Downs’ daughters, Joan and Lydia, for the last six years. Panama Jack was known in the 4-H community and at the county fair.
— image credit: Contributed photo

One dog euthanized, other dog’s fate will be determined in Aug. 20 hearing

A Bailer Hill family’s beloved pet alpaca, Panama Jack, was killed by dogs while the family was camping on Orcas Island July 29.

Panama Jack belonged to Dale and Ruth Downs and was cared for by the Downs’ daughters, Joan and Lydia, for the last six years. Panama Jack was known in the 4-H community and at the county fair.

Another animal, a llama named Prince, was also attacked but jumped a high fence to escape. Prince is described by the family as “severely traumatized.”

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Department said a citation had been issued to Timothy Stephens of Kanaka Bay Road, to whom one of the dogs belongs. The other dog, which has been euthanized, belonged to Andrew Johnson, currently being held in Whatcom County Jail for misdemeanor drug charges and failure to appear in court.

The dogs, Kova and Sadie, both female Staffordshire terriers, or pit bulls, were formerly unknown to the Downs family.

The family said the two dogs didn’t “allegedly” kill the alpaca. When the Downs’ friend, Janelle Teasdale, came to check on the pair of animals, she found Panama Jack dead, with pieces of the animal’s body strewn around the fenced-in area and the two dogs still inside the fence, leaving little doubt as to what happened or who the culprits were.

There is, however, some dispute about which dog did the actual killing.

Kova was described as “terribly bloody” by Twila Stephens, from whose property the two dogs escaped. According to Stephens, she was caring for the two dogs when she put them in her front yard — enclosed, she said, by a six-foot fence.

“They must have jumped it,” she said.

Stephens maintains it was Kova that did the killing, and that her son’s 10-month-old Sadie didn’t do anything wrong.

“Our dog didn’t do anything but sit and watch,” she said, “We have photographs of her sitting by the fence. She didn’t have any blood on her — not on her face, not under her feet. The evidence shows she was innocent.”

Robin Day, an alpaca breeder who made it possible for the Downs family to have Panama Jack six years ago, described him as a “beloved family pet.”

“Those dogs shredded Panama Jack alive. Thank God those two little girls weren’t home. Those girls could have been maimed for life — or worse.”

According to Ruth Downs, the two dogs worked their way inside two sets of fences to get to the animals, who showed their panic by spitting all over their penned area.

“That’s what camelids do when they’re stressed or upset — they spit,” Downs said.

The ensuing carnage wrought upon the lone animal who couldn’t jump the fence shocked onlookers, Day said.

Dale Downs said he didn’t know that there were pit bulls in the neighborhood and that he’d never had any experiences with the two animals before.

“I didn’t even know they had pit bulls,” he said.

Nor does he harbor any ill-will against the breed. “We used to have one. It was a most kind, gentle animal. What I have a problem with is loose dogs praying on livestock,” he said.

A hearing on Aug. 20 will likely determine the fate of the younger of the two dogs involved in the attack. According to Sheriff Bill Cumming, at that point the facts will have been known and a clearer determination of the dog’s status will be made.

After a formal hearing to determine responsibility for the one remaining dog, Cumming will have the option of declaring the animal to be “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous.”

If Cumming determines the dog to be dangerous, the dog’s owner, Timothy Stephens, can regain custody only if several conditions are met, including taking out a $100,000 liability policy specifically naming the dog in case it hurts anyone, construction of a special protective enclosure and posting of adequate signage to warn the public that a dangerous dog is on the premises.

A dangerous dog cannot be outside of that enclosure unless muzzled and on a leather leash by someone over 18 years of age.

“We inspect for compliance with those terms,” Cumming said.

Short of that, the dog can be ordered euthanized.

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