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Staff file photo by John Rawlston / Dogs stand in the middle of Smith Road in Whitwell, Tenn., in 2011 when some Marion County residents complained about unleashed dogs.

A group of animal and pet advocates in Marion County, Tennessee, is planning a demonstration on the courthouse square in Jasper on Monday to raise awareness about laws related to pets, animal cruelty and resources available to pet owners.

The demonstration stems from the fatal shooting of a pet husky named Jax in November.

Michelle Story, a member of the "Justice for Jax Committee" social media group and a friend of Jax's owner, believes there has been an increase in missing and intentionally injured animals in Marion County, and she wants pet owners and other residents to learn about their rights and available help for pet owners.

(READ MORE: Proposed 'Joker's law' would stiffen penalties for police K-9 shootings in Tennessee)

"I think people need to be aware of what the law is in Tennessee regarding animal cruelty and to be educated more on how to prevent somebody harming their animals as far as keeping your dogs in a fenced-in yard, when you let your dogs outside going outside with them, having them on a leash," Story said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

Jax was a friend's husky allegedly shot by a neighboring property owner while on another property owner's land, according to Story. During a recent search for Jax, another dog was discovered that was wearing a collar and appeared to have been shot and dumped by the Sequatchie River, showing what Story is afraid is becoming a trend, she said.

(READ MORE: What to know about the rules around off-leash, loose dogs in Chattanooga, Hamilton County)

At Monday's demonstration, participants will offer people "resources so they're aware of what the law is, whether they're trying to protect their livestock or their own animals, how to keep their animals safe and what they can do if somebody harms their animals," Story said. "Our goal ... is to make the community aware of how big of a problem this could be, and there's a lot of people moving into the community and a lot of people let their dogs run" loose, she said.

Story said Jax's owner is seeking a remedy through the court system.

IF YOU GO

The demonstration by the group, Justice for Jax Committee, will occur from 8 a.m. CST until dark Monday, Dec. 13, on the Marion County Courthouse square in Jasper, Tennessee.

 

According to an affidavit for a criminal summons alleging aggravated animal cruelty filed Nov. 18 in Marion County General Sessions Court, Jax's owner Joy Summers, who declined to be interviewed, alleges her husky, Jax, was shot by her neighbor, Terry Kerlin, on Nov. 16.

Aggravated animal cruelty on a first offense is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, but upon a second offense becomes a class E felony, according to state law, which can carry one to six years in prison and up to a $3,000 fine. A person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals "when, with aggravated cruelty and with no justifiable purpose, the person intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal," the law states.

"Aggravated cruelty" means conduct which is done or carried out in a depraved and sadistic manner and which tortures or maims an animal, including the failure to provide food and water to a companion animal resulting in a substantial risk of death or death," the law states.

(READ MORE: Cruelty charges as 100 dead animals found in Georgia)

Summers said in the affidavit she took Jax and her other dog to run on the property of her uncle, Tommy Stanfill.

"Later I heard two gunshots, my hound came running down the hill and I got in my Jeep to look for Jax," she said in the document.

"Terry Kerlin was pulling out of his driveway, I asked had he seen a husky, he said he had. I asked him did he see where he went? He said no, got in his truck and left," Summer said in the affidavit.

The affidavit said Stanfill witnessed Kerlin kill Jax on Stanfill's land and that Kerlin had taken the dog's body away.

"I only wanted his body," Summers said in the document. "My uncle went down to talk to Terry and ask where he had dumped Jax. He said he was unretrievable but refused to say where he was dumped."

Kerlin declined a telephone interview Thursday, saying he would offer comment at a more appropriate time.

In Tennessee, there is a statewide law on dogs running loose on the books, but enforcement is spotty, 12th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

"Normally, the fact that a dog is running loose and on your property just running around — if he's not attacking you or some kids or something, that does not give you the right to destroy him," Taylor said, noting the usual remedy was to take the case to civil court to recover damages.

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Contributed photo / This Sequatchie, Tenn., husky named Jax was allegedly shot dead Nov. 16 by a neighboring resident.

"There are exceptions. There's an old, old law still on the books that nobody is liable criminally or civilly for killing a dog that is worrying or destroying livestock which includes poultry, chickens," Taylor said. "So if a dog is killing your chickens, you could shoot it, or if it's trying to kill one of your calves or sheep or something like that.

"The cities have their own ordinances on dogs, and there's a general state prohibition, actually, that is very seldom enforced, about dogs running at large in the counties unless they're on, or going to or coming from a hunt under control of their owner," Taylor said, referring to what is usually recognized as the state's law requiring pets to be controlled by their owners. He noted there are laws related to vicious animals, dog fighting and animal cruelty, as well as property laws that cover pets.

(READ MORE: Dog attacks, kills 6-month-old Tennessee baby)

"The dog laws pop up in different parts of the [state law]," he said. Many of the laws regarding dogs are in areas that are not part of Tennessee's criminal code. "A lot of them are under livestock, animal husbandry codes," he said.

Taylor reviewed the criminal summons — a criminal warrant sworn out by a private citizen rather than a charge filed by law enforcement — charging Kerlin with aggravated animal cruelty — but said he couldn't talk about the merits of the allegations as his office will prosecute the case.

Taylor said a hearing is set for Jan. 10 in Marion County General Sessions Court.

Story said the incidents inspired Monday's demonstration to help prevent problems between neighbors, and she'd like to see an effort to improve state laws.

"There's always dogs running around here. I've lived here for six years now, and I see the same dogs all the time," Story said. "Nobody bothers them, and they don't bother anybody, but now it seems there are a lot more dogs that are coming up missing."

(READ MORE: Moments in Memory: Ethel Soper Hardy leaves legacy of Chattanooga Humane Educational Society)

Story said she sees a lot of comments on social media that seem to show people don't understand the law, and she's worried dogs running loose are at risk.

"Our intentions are not to destroy anyone's reputation, but to bring attention to a much greater problem and prevent this type of situation from happening in the future," she said in a follow-up email. "I know we're a small town, but this is a big deal and has the potential to make a huge impact on Tennessee law and the safety of our four-legged friends who have no voice."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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