Two large Rottweilers attacked and killed Donald “Don” Thomas, 83, in Leeds, Alabama, as he went out to check the mailbox at his home on September 20. His wife found the Korean War veteran lying in a pool of blood in the yard of neighbors on Weaver Avenue when she returned from grocery shopping. Leeds is a suburb of Birmingham.
The two attacking Rottweilers were shot and killed by police at the scene of the tragic incident because they were so aggressive that the police feared for their lives and the safety of the victim, according to Al.com.
Police Detective A.R. Holman testified at the hearing before St. Clair County District Judge Alan Furr on October 2 about the fatal injuries to Thomas, who was still alive when his wife found him.
"From about the knee area down his jeans were shredded and both legs were shredded down to the bone," she said. Holman said Thomas also had bite wounds to his right arm. These were probably incurred in trying to defend himself from the vicious assault.
The dogs' owners, Jerry and Jacqueline Lenton, were not at the hearing, Al.com reported. The Lentons lived next door and had been friends with the Leeds for 15 years.
At the October 2 hearing, Judge Alan Furr ordered euthanization of 33 other Rottweilers seized from the Lenton’s home. Leeds police Chief Byron Jackson said Monday Jerry and Jacqueline Lenton had relinquished ownership of the Rotweilers. There was no information about why they had so many dogs.
Judge Furr made his decision after hearing from Detective Holman that the dogs acted very aggressively toward animal control workers who took them from the home. Holman said the Rottweilers growled, snarled and bit at catch poles during the seizure, which took a total of about three hours.
"I don't feel they could be safely adopted out," St. Clair County District Attorney's prosecutor Gwendolyn Connelly said. "They were raised in an environment that created basically a murder weapon."
Connelly asked for the euthanasia order for all the dogs. The judge agreed, stating, "They're either vicious or they have vicious tendencies," Furr said. He said he would enter an order that the dogs "be disposed of in a humane manner."
Judge Furr also scheduled a hearing for Oct. 30 to consider whether the Lentons would have to pay restitution for the cost of caring for the dogs, which have been kept by Birmingham-Jefferson Animal Control since the incident, according to Al.com.
Police Chief Jackson said the cost of caring for the dogs had amounted to about $4,000.
Jackson also reported that prosecutors were still investigating and trying to decide whether to bring charges or to present the case to a grand jury.
In addition to his military service to his country, Donald “Don” Thomas was active in the Leeds Historical Society, working as a volunteer for over ten years. He served as a Deacon in his church for 59 years. In 2006 he was a nominee for the Leeds "Citizen of the Year" by the Leeds Chamber of Commerce.
He was remembered at the Leeds’ City Council meeting on Monday night, October 1, where Police Chief Jackson gave an update on the case, Al.com reported.
Randy Dixon of Shelby County, son-in-law of Mr. Thomas, attended and thanked the Leeds police and fire departments for their work. "They've been in contact with the family, and we thank them," Dixon said.
Although some neighbors have mentioned previous problems with the Lenton's Rottweilers since the mauling incident, Chief Jackson said police had received only one prior complaint about the dogs. That was in October 2010, he said.
City Councilwoman Susan Carswell encouraged residents to speak out about problem animals before tragedies occur.
In discussing the tragic death of Donald Thomas, she said, "A lot of this hinges on the neighbors," Carswell said. "You need to be vocal about it."
Leeds Mayor Eric Patterson said residents are reluctant to complain about their neighbors.
"People have problems with dogs, but then they don't want to call and report the dogs, because then they'll have a problem with their neighbors," he said.