Chaining dogs ‘never humane’

Published 9:43 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Woman writes to council on behalf of dead cousin

Alice Conner saw the pit bulls tied up in her cousin’s Whaleyville-area backyard several times before they mauled her 2-year-old cousin to death in October 2005.

She tried to convince her cousin, Heather Frango, and Frango’s boyfriend, James Jonathan Martin Jr., to give the dogs up. But they ignored her pleas, and soon Jonathan, their toddler son, was dead.

“I had tried to get my cousin to give them to the SPCA for adoption,” Conner said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I went in the backyard, and they had been chained up to a tree, and there was no water in the bowl, and they couldn’t reach any food. The collars were embedded in their necks. I had to loosen them. I was very upset.”

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Conner said she “made the mistake of not taking care of that situation on my own.”

On Oct. 3, 2005, Jonathan, left unsupervised, wandered into a room where the dogs had been brought inside the night before, because it was raining and the female recently had puppies. His parents, according to a prosecutor speaking during a sentencing hearing following the death, admitted to using drugs the night before, which may explain why they didn’t hear him screaming.

Both parents were sentenced to three years in prison on involuntary manslaughter and child neglect charges. Conner, who believes the abuse of the dogs was a cause of the attack, has become a nationwide advocate for ordinances to ban or regulate the chaining of dogs.

“I have been writing letters for years since it occurred,” she said. “It’s been very successful throughout the country in different parts.”

Now that Suffolk is considering its own ordinance to address tethering, her efforts have come full circle, the Virginia Beach resident said. She wrote a letter to Suffolk City Council on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“I just hope that it can help avoid things like that happening again,” she said. “I see both sides of the situation, the danger to people and the sadness of the animals.”

PETA responds to more chained-dog cases in Suffolk than any other city in the area, according to David Perle, a spokesman for the group.

Conner said she advocates a complete ban on chaining dogs.

“That is not the way they should be living,” she said. “It’s never acceptable to me. It’s never humane. Why have a dog if you’re going to keep it chained outside?”

Suffolk City Council will discuss the issue in a work session that begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday at 441 Market St. There is a possibility it will get moved to the 7 p.m. regular session for a vote, or it could be tabled until the April 3 meeting.

Conner, who is a graduate student at Old Dominion University, will be unable to attend the meeting, because she has a class. But she hopes others will show up.

“I hope there will be a presence there,” she said. “Remember Jonathan. That’s always what it’s about for me. Remember Jonathan and his story and the way that he died.”