Dead dogs walking 

Ruby and Angel are on death row, but they committed no crime.

The two Labrador retriever mixes were sentenced to death in December by Orange County Animal Services. All that stands in the way now is an unusual appeal to the Circuit Court arguing that Orange County's animal-control system is arbitrary.

One member of the animal-services advisory board agrees. "The board does not have a clue," says Roxanne Nickerson, a board member since September. After the dogs caused several complaints from people in their southeast Orlando neighborhood, most of whom are elderly and "afraid to come out of their houses" whether or not an animal is present, the board in September decided that declaring the dogs "dangerous" was the only way to "make this go away," Nickerson says.

It was an important decision. Once the board labels a dog "dangerous," an additional offense seals the dog's fate. Orange County policy says that if a dangerous animal "attacks" or "bites" any person or animal, it should be killed.

On Dec. 30 the dogs ran through a backyard gate that was accidentally left opened and chased Arcelio Perales. The "dogs were acting aggressive and came after me," he wrote in an affidavit. "I had to get back in my house."

Although Perales was not bitten -- no one has ever been bitten by either dog -- the incident qualified as an "attack," according to the six-member board.

"The board seems to do everything backwards," says Nickerson, who cast the only dissenting vote on this matter. She cites two cases where the board allowed owners to keep their dogs despite the fact that those dogs had attacked people or animals.

"It's ridiculous," the dogs' attorney, Frank Robbins, says. "They `the advisory board` sure are a little trigger happy, if you ask me." The animals' owner, Ghislaine Johnson, is moving to Nevada. She has offered to take the dogs there.

The board voted down Johnson's offer, saying that they did not wish to pass Orange County's problem onto someone else. They referred the case to the Circuit Court, which will hear arguments over the next months before rendering a decision.


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