Internet storm erupts in Chiefland after pit bull is struck with machete


Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 4:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 4:50 p.m.

Richard Gerald had just gone inside his Chiefland home when he heard a blast from a car horn.

Stepping back outside, he saw his daughter, son-in-law and 5-year-old granddaughter in a car — and a neighbor’s two dogs menacing his leashed male terrier, Snowball.

Gerald yelled and tried to chase the dogs away, but only one left. The other, a pit bull named Mason, growled and lunged at him, Gerald would later tell the Chiefland Police Department.

He then grabbed a machete and struck the dog, splitting its skull.

The blow did not kill Mason. His death came a short time later, at the hands of his owners — who shot him, they said, to put him out of his misery after he staggered home.

The bloody incident Sunday afternoon has since moved far beyond the lawn at 106 NE Fifth St. It sparked outrage on the Internet when investigators declined to press charges against Gerald after determining he was within his rights to defend himself.

One city official called it “a cut-and-dry case of ‘stand your ground.’ ”

The police report noted that twice in the past week, Gerald had called the police and the city’s animal control department to say the dogs were loose and on his property, acting aggressively.

Police and Gerald tried to contact the dogs’ owners, Adam and Ashlie Cowart, but no one was home, the report said. Workers at the Humane Society of Levy County also told the police they’ve received reports from several neighbors about the dogs being loose in the area.

Ashlie Cowart said she and her husband had never been told of the complaints against the dogs. She shared her heartbreak about the incident on Facebook.

“Thanks to the sick psycho that just moved into our neighborhood a month ago, our youngest dog, Mason, is no longer with us. With absolutely no legal ramification, we have to continue to live next to a murderer,” she wrote in a post that has since been removed.

Her friend posted a graphic photo of Mason’s injury on Facebook, where close to 900 people have shared it. An online petition demanding justice for Mason has garnered more than 1,700 signatures.

Many of the online comments have included insults and death threats toward Gerald. Since Monday, he said, he has received several threatening phone calls at work.

Gerald pointed out that he did not kill the dog; its owners did when they shot Mason.

“I did what I had to do,” he said. “I’m truly sorry for the kids that lost their dog, but it’s not my fault. I was protecting my granddaughter, daughter and son-in-law.”

Ashlie Cowart said they had been in the backyard of their home at 204 NE 5th St. grilling Sunday afternoon when their two dogs got out of the backyard. She wasn’t worried, she said, because she knew they would come back.

When Mason returned, it was with a deep wound on his head. Adam Cowart shot Mason with a rifle because the dog was violently seizing. It was, Ashlie Cowart said, “the most humane way to put him out of his misery.”

Adam Cowart said he went to Police Chief Robert Douglass to demand legal action but was told Gerald was on his own property and was defending himself.

The chief said Adam Cowart told him that for several years he has allowed his dogs to run free in the neighborhood when he gets home from work.

“The police told us there’s nothing we can do, and that we should have put the dogs up,” Ashlie Cowart said. “I understand that, but does that mean they deserve to get murdered if they’re let out?”

Chiefland has an ordinance that requires pets to be on a leash or in a fenced area, which Adam Cowart was in violation of, said City Manager Kevin Gray, who called it a “cut-and-dry use of ‘stand your ground’ law.”

Douglass said he understands both sides of the sad situation.

“It’s a travesty that the dog got killed,” he said, “but when you have a dog on your property, you do whatever you have to do to protect your family.”

For his part, Gerald said he sympathizes with Mason’s owners about the loss of their pet, but he said he hoped they would appreciate his concerns.

“My dog is my baby just like their dogs are their babies,” he said. “If my dog acted aggressively toward their family, I would have welcomed him to do the same.”

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