• The house at 890 Goose Island Road where Kathy Sue Nichelson was killed in the driveway by what authorities said was a pit bulldog on Thursday of last week.
    The house at 890 Goose Island Road where Kathy Sue Nichelson was killed in the driveway by what authorities said was a pit bulldog on Thursday of last week.

Woman killed by dog

A 61-year-old Gilmer County woman died after being mauled by a pit bulldog in Cherry Log last week, according to a release from the sheriff’s office.

Kathy Sue Nichelson was attacked at 890 Goose Island Road on Sept. 28 shortly after arriving at the residence. A passerby saw Nichelson on the ground and stopped to render aid, but the dog attacked him as well. He received non- life threatening injuries and escaped to his vehicle where he was able to call 911, the report states.

On the 911 call received by a dispatcher at 1:02 p.m., the frantic and distraught man tells a dispatcher he tried to help the woman, but the dog attacked and bit him on the chin. He then had to climb on top of his car where he made the call, a recording reveals. When the dispatcher asks the woman’s condition, the caller reports, “Barely breathing.”

When law enforcement and EMS arrived, officers attempted to keep the animal at bay while EMS tried to treat Nichelson, the release states, adding the dog came toward public safety personnel “aggressively” and was put down by deputies.

“As events transpired, the dog was killed, so there is no cause for any alarm for the community,” an initial sheriff’s office Facebook post said. An investigation into the animal’s behavior and its owner is ongoing, according to the release.

Deputy Coroner Melissa Waddell said Nichelson was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:50 p.m., and that the body was sent to the state lab of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

County Fire/EMA Chief Tony Pritchett said Nichelson was in “extremely critical condition” when EMTs arrived.

“Shortly after their arrival, it got to the point in her condition that she was not able to be revived ... there was a lot of loss of blood,” he said.

Pritchett said the dog was “coming after everybody” who arrived on the scene.

“I think they got there about the same time,” he said of EMTs and deputies, “so the good thing is they were able to put the dog down and control (the situation) to where it didn’t affect our efforts (to try to help Nichelson). None of our guys were attacked.”

The property at 890 Goose Island Road is owned by Randy and Kathy Hadden of Metter, according to the Gilmer tax assessor’s webpage. Messages to their phone numbers in Metter were not returned.

Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said the dog was owned by Dante Holloway, who lives at the residence, but as of Tuesday no charges had been filed since the case is still under investigation.

“She had been there before,” he said of Nichelson. “We have found that this dog has had some issues. Obviously, nothing like this. Even the morning of (the attack), the dog had been aggressive toward somebody there at the house.”

Nicholson said Holloway and Nichelson were “known to each other” but that the relationship was not romantic.


‘Dangerous dog’ ordinance

Nicholson was asked about leash laws in the county.

“There are leash laws and dangerous dog laws on top of that ... we’ve looked at that,” Nicholson said. “The dangerous dog issue doesn’t apply here because the dog had not been deemed (dangerous). There’s a process. There has to be a complaint, then animal control notifies the owner, then it goes to the board of commissioners. That has not been done, because evidently we have no prior complaints on this dog.

“I don’t know that for a fact since it’s an animal control issue, but I’m not aware of any. There’s a subsection (in the ordinance) that says no owner of the dangerous dog shall be held criminally liable under this article for injuries inflicted by such owner’s dog to any human being while on the owner’s property.”

Daniel Laukka with the animal shelter said there have been complaints about an aggressive dog at the residence, but those calls are over two years old.

“I’m not sure if it was the same dog or not,” he said. “I don’t even know if it’s the same guy that lives out there.”

Nicholson said charges may be forthcoming, but probably not under the dangerous dog ordinance.

“It wouldn’t even really apply even if it had been deemed a dangerous dog ... with the dog not leaving the property of the owner,” he said. “In this instance, I still think that there’s probably not going to be much anything from the animal ordinance issue that the owner’s going to be looking at. If the animal was running up and down the road, and people out walking on the road in the afternoon and the dog was running out on them, that’s a different matter.

“Now, I’m not saying that there won’t be any kind of charges — I’m not saying that there will be — but we are looking at issues.”


Not ‘a typical dog’

Nicholson said he saw no signs on the property warning about the dog, and then described the scenario.

“I had three deputies on the scene pretty quick,” he said. “When they saw Ms. Nichelson laying there, she was in rough shape. It was obvious that it was very, very serious. The dog came out in an aggressive manner toward them, but it went back under the house or around the house — it went away. When EMS got there and started working on the victim, the three deputies were standing guard on the dog and ultimately, it came out aggressively where they all were.

“There’s not a lot of distance between the house and the road, and Ms. Nichelson was laying in the driveway, so when the dog came back out it was right up on them. They were already prepared to shoot the dog. Luckily, they didn’t shoot it in the head, which I understand messes up rabies testing. The dog came out a third time, and they felt it was about to attack them. I was actually on the phone with one of the deputies when the other deputy shot the dog.”

Jennifer King, public relations officer with the North Georgia Health District, confirmed the dog was tested for rabies and that results from the Georgia Public Health Lab were negative.

Nicholson said during his 13 years as sheriff only about three dogs have been shot, but many have been pepper sprayed.

“What they saw when they got there made them realize they weren’t dealing with a typical dog,” he said. “They did call animal control and they were on the way, but they don’t respond in emergencies ... they arrived shortly after I did. Animal control would probably have attempted to catch the dog. They have equipment to do that, but we don’t, although we bought that equipment when animal control was under the sheriff’s office.”

Nicholson said if someone has an aggressive dog and they’re letting it run loose, it needs to be reported.

“When I say aggressive, I’m not talking about a particular breed,” he said. “I’m talking about a dog that’s aggressive. Barking is not necessarily aggression.”

Pritchett was asked about protocol for emergency personnel who are not law enforcement to carry weapons in regard to dog attacks or other risky scenarios.

“This is one of the questions that’s come up forever and ever, for fire service and EMS — carrying firearms of any kind,” he said. “Unfortunately, this situation or something comparable exists a lot, because a lot of times firefighters and EMTs pull up in a situation and don’t know all the factors, just as law enforcement may not — but they have no defense.

“The call may come through that someone just has a cut to the wrist or a cut to the eye, and they won’t know it’s a domestic violence (situation). If our folks happen to get there first, they could be in the middle of an active criminal incident where our people get in danger.”


Gilmer County ‘leash law’

   Animals running at large —  It is unlawful for any owner to cause or allow an animal to run at large in or on any public property, vacant lot or private property without consent of the property owner.

   Animal control — No person owning or otherwise having an animal in his care, charge, control, custody or possession shall cause, permit or allow such animal to  be in or upon any public area unless such animal is under restraint by leash or other means. Animals are prohibited in those areas so designated and posted by the county.

   Restrictions on permitting dogs to be outside proper enclosure — (a) It is unlawful for an owner of a dangerous dog to permit the dog to be outside a proper enclosure unless the dog is muzzled and restrained by a substantial chain or leash and is under the physical restraint of a responsible person. The muzzle shall be made in a manner that will not cause injury to the dog or interfere with its vision or respiration but will prevent it from biting any person.

(b) It is unlawful for the owner of a potentially dangerous dog to permit the dog to be outside a proper enclosure unless the dog is restrained by a substantial chain or leash and is under the restraint of a responsible person.

   Source: Gilmer County Code, Section 14

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