On Tuesday morning, 5-year-old Arianna Jolee Merrbach walked up to a pit bull that was chained in the backyard of a relative’s home. Merrbach was mauled to death by the dog. The incident occurred at about 11:15 a.m. at 7208 Fork Road in Effingham, S.C. Little Arianna was pronounced dead at the scene by Florence County Coroner Keith von Lutcken.
Autopsy results state the cause of death was “multiple, sharp, blunt-force injuries” from the bites of the dog.
"The manner of death is classified as an accident," Von Lutcken said Wednesday,
The pit bull involved in the attack was surrendered and euthanized. The owner of the dog—said to be an aunt of the victim — could face animal cruelty charges, Herbie Christmas with the Florence County Environmental Services told Carolina Live. Christmas said that officials are investigating the possibility of charging the owner of the pit bull with violation of the Florence County tethering ordinance.
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Two more pit bulls were also reported at the home and were impounded by Florence County Environmental Services but apparently were not chained.
"What we found at the scene yesterday ... the one that attacked and mauled the child was on a chain," Christmas said. "Obviously the dog has been on a chain for a quite some time. That's a violation of Florence County Section that prohibits someone from leaving a dog on a chain for more than eight hours in a 24 hour time period. So, we probably are going to pursue those criminal charges for animal cruelty.”
A neighbor reportedly contacted Environmental Services last year about the dogs because she was afraid of them when she saw them running in her yard.
"I was afraid of them because I don't bother nobody's [sic] pit bulls, so when I called, they made them tie them up in the back," she told Carolina Live.
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Christmas said there are signs at the property that lead him to believe the pit bull had been on a chain for a long period of time.
"You can just look at the area where the dog is, I mean, the ground is completely bare,” Christmas described to WBTW. “All the grass had been killed, I guess by way of the chain dragging across it — just indicative marks of an animal being chained indefinitely.”
He added: "I'm not saying in any manner that the reason the dog attacked the child was because it was on a chain. It's just a proven fact that animals do become more aggressive when they're forced to be on chain all of their life than if they were in a pen or inside of a house."
According to Christmas, this was the first deadly dog mauling in the county in his 27 years of service. On average, they respond to between 8 and 10 dog attacks or bites a week. He told WBTW that about 86 percent of dog-related deaths in the nation are from pit bulls but only 5 percent of the nation's population of dogs is made up of pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
"Pit bull-type dogs are in my opinion like a loaded gun," he told WBTW. "You need to treat it like a loaded gun, you need to make sure that people from the public can't get into that area, and most importantly, you need to make sure that your dog doesn't go to someone else's dog and cause injury.”