In December 2017, disturbing reports surfaceed that police in Crawford County, Georgia had threatened to arrest a local man if he did not cut off his own dog's head, purportedly for rabies testing, after officers fatally shot the animal.
We have received several inquiries about this story. It is true.
According to Crawford County Sheriff Lewis Walker, a Sheriff's deputy arrived at the home of Joe Nathan Goodwin on the afternoon of 1 December 2017, responding to a report that Goodwin's pit bull-type terrier Big Boy had bitten a neighbor. Walker says the dog charged at the deputy, who then fatally shot him.
Subsequently, investigator James Hollis arrived at the scene and ordered Goodwin to remove the dog's head for the purpose of rabies testing. Goodwin initially refused to comply, but later followed Hollis' order. In a video recorded by Goodwin and posted to Facebook, Hollis can clearly be heard saying:
We asked you to cut — remove the dog's head, and you're refusing, right?
In another video, Hollis identifies himself as "Investigator Hollis" and expresses dissatisfaction with the way Goodwin was purportedly talking to law enforcement before appearing to slam Goodwin against a car. In yet another video, Hollis can be heard threatening to arrest Goodwin.
The following is clear from this video evidence: Hollis, by his own admission, asked Goodwin to cut off his own dog's head; that Goodwin was reluctant to do so, and even outraged by the request; that Hollis threatened to arrest and charge Goodwin with an unspecified criminal offense. Given that Goodwin was acting under threat of arrest, it is true to say that he was forced to remove his own dog's head.
Crawford County sheriff Lewis Walker told local news outlet WMAZ that the incident is under investigation, and that Hollis had been placed on administrative leave. Walker added that any rabies diagnosis should have been handled by the local health department, not responding police officers:
That shouldn't have been done on the scene, from what I gathered...
We [police] would not transfer an animal in that situation. That’s up to the health department. We would respond, and we would notify them.
The Crawford County Sheriff's Department sent us a copy of the incident report in this case, which indicates that a local health official told Hollis by telephone that there were two options: either Goodwin had to remove the dog's head himself, or he could transport the animal to a veterinarian, who could perform the procedure.
Despite this, according to the report, the health official subsequently told Goodwin he would have to cut off the dog's head himself, apparently without presenting the second option.
After Investigator Hollis arrived on scene and exited his patrol vehicle, he called the Crawford County Health Department and spoke with Ms. Sims to let her know of the situation and what needed to be done about the dog. Investigator Hollis placed his phone on speaker mode so that Mr. Goodwin could hear her instructions.
Ms. Sims stated that either the owner of the dog needed to cut the head off of the dog or take it to a Vet and have them to do it in order to have the dog tested for rabies. After Ms. Sims stated that Mr. Goodwin had to cut the head off of the dog, he became irate and started yelling and cussing.
Proper protocol was not followed in this incident, a spokesperson for the state of Georgia's Department of Public Health told the Telegraph newspaper in Macon, Georgia:
The beheading should have been performed by either a veterinarian or a trained animal control officer, “not only to provide a good specimen, but also for the protection of the person who removes the head,” Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said in an email to The Telegraph on Tuesday. “That person should have pre-exposure rabies vaccine.”