AUGUSTA, Georgia (WJBF) – Changes could be coming to hold pet owners in Columbia County accountable after an 11-year-old boy was attacked by dogs despite previous complaints.
According to county records, three previous incidents involving the dogs that attacked Justin Gilstrap were reported to Columbia County in 2022.
The first report came in January from Justin’s aunt claiming that her Yorkie was attacked by dogs and sent to an animal hospital.
His sister, Justin’s mom, tells me they didn’t follow up with the county after the report.
“We didn’t deliver,” says Ericka Stevens, Justin’s mother. “My dad got sick and died unexpectedly, so that was the least of our worries at the time.”
A few weeks later, Justin’s aunt made another call after seeing the dogs loose in the neighborhood.
Final violation notices were issued to the owner for: failure to confine their animals, Yorkie attack, and vaccinations.
“We place the responsibility on pet owners in Columbia County when it comes to leashing or keeping their dog within their fenced yard,” says Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson. “We don’t allow dogs to run free.”
Records show two other neighbor complaints about the dogs in July 2022.
On the night of Friday, January 6, Justin was attacked by the three dogs of the same owner while riding his bike home.
Johnson says the dogs are now considered “ruthless,” under state law, and have become aggravated.
“We issued 15 citations,” Johnson says. “Now the Sheriff’s Office is also conducting an investigation and they have made an arrest that parallels the cases we have done and the citations we have written.”
Johnson says that while the state has its own laws, county ordinances on pets could change.
“We have an animal advisory board that is made up of citizens, that meets regularly, that makes recommendations to animal services and ultimately to the Board of Commissioners,” Johnson says. “I think you could possibly see something there. There’s no guarantee that anything will come of it.”
Justin’s mother said that, after an encounter with the same dogs, Justin’s late grandfather was concerned that this would happen.
“He said, ‘Next time it’s going to be one of my grandchildren,’” Stevens says. “Well, he passed away and he was right…it was one of his grandsons.”
“Our hearts go out to the family and the boy,” Johnson says. “And again, no child should have to go through any kind of trauma like this. We are continuing to look into this, the sheriff’s office is actively involved in this, our district attorney is actively involved in this. And this is something that Columbia County intends to achieve to the end.”
Justin’s mom shares on her Facebook page that Justin is now sitting down. She also said in a video to his followers: “Hello everyone, I love you all. And I’m just letting you know that I’m okay.”