Last July, Marian Mosel was out of town when dogs killed her cat on the front porch of a neighbor's house on Seneca Drive. She'd heard rumors about a feral dog pack roaming the neighborhood and asked the neighbors taking care of her cat to keep it indoors.
On a Wednesday in September, Danny Tullier said he woke at 3:30 a.m. to the sounds of barking and a cat crying out. He went into the backyard of his Beulah Avenue home and saw three dogs attacking his cat.
Tullier said there was a small white terrier that appeared to be the leader, and two medium-sized dogs, one dark with a brown brindle pattern and the other with taupe or dirty white fur. None of the dogs were wearing collars.
The next morning, Tullier inspected the yard and found the mangled body of his cat. The dogs had attacked Audrey "not for food, but for sport," he said.
Happy Baker said she has had to bury five cats that were family pets. Additionally, several feral cats that she has fed and taken care of have gone missing.
"These dogs have been in the neighborhood for probably close to a year now," said Chelsey Breedy-Oyer, president of the St. Elmo Neighborhood Association. "As far as we can tell, they live in Forest Hills Cemetery or the woods near there."
Tullier said he feels helpless. He has spread his story on the neighborhood Facebook page and said he's called McKamey Animal Shelter repeatedly, to little effect.
"I have lived in St. Elmo for 41 years, and I have never experienced a problem like this. And they're doing nothing to stop it," said Baker.
McKamey is responsible for animal control in the city of Chattanooga, but the shelter is not authorized to use tranquilizer guns, leaving its officers with few options to contain the pack, said field service manager Tiffany Newcomb.
Staff at the shelter became aware of the problem about four months ago, though it came to a head at the end of last year, when the shelter received calls nearly once a day regarding dog attacks in the area, Newcomb reported.
The shelter's field officers started patrolling the area, looking for the dogs and setting traps, she said.
But the dogs are still roaming the streets, seen as far north as Broad Street and Ochs Highway and as far south as 54th Street. On the neighborhood group's online forum, a report came in Feb. 12 describing three dogs believed to be part of a pack that numbers at least five.
Newcomb said there have been close calls when a patrolling officer was almost able to snare one of the suspect dogs, and the shelter has set at least 10 traps in Forest Hills Cemetery, at a gas station on Broad Street and in the yards of people who have called.
"It's harder to trap dogs like that because they don't have one particular residence," she said.
She believes these dogs grew up on the street and are "street smart." They know the area, which fences have holes in them and where they can find food, making them very difficult to trap.
For the traps to be efficient, it will require the entire community being on board.
"It's going to take the whole St. Elmo area to help out, to help us find a good location," Newcomb said.
That buy-in goes beyond just helping to pinpoint a location for traps.
Sometimes community members trigger, move or take other actions to dissuade dogs from going into the traps, because citizens fear the dog will be killed if caught, said Newcomb.
McKamey is a "no kill" shelter, she said. If the dogs are caught, staff would first make sure the dogs could not be identified and that they don't belong to anyone, she explained. The dogs would then go through a medical and behavioral exam, and if they passed, could potentially be available for adoption after a holding time.
Another difficulty in trapping the dogs is that they can only be lured in if they are hungry, because they are baited with food, and Newcomb said local residents may be feeding the dogs.
If anybody has information that could create an opportunity to trap more efficiently, the shelter would be "more than willing" to start trapping again, she said.
"We want to get them off the streets just as much as the next person," said Newcomb. "I don't want people's personal pets to suffer because of a pack of feral dogs."
Some citizens think continuing to set traps is not enough.
"Given the severity of the situation with the dogs — I've heard of six or seven people's family pets being killed in their own yards — I think the local animal control should consider changing their protocol, because it has gotten out of control," Breedy-Oyer said.
Some also feel like the city could do more. Christin Cadwell blames the pack for the June 2017 death of her Siamese cat, Munchkin. Though she found no puncture wounds, the older cat took its last breath shortly after Cadwel awoke to the sound of barking outside her Sunnyside Avenue home.
"I feel like the city is not doing the best they can because this is a small dog pack, and it's almost going to take a small child being attacked to get the city involved," she said.
Newcomb asks those who spot the dogs to call McKamey at 305-6500.