ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A 7-year-old girl was playing in her front yard when she said a pack of wild dogs came charging at her and bit her. We're not revealing her name to protect her privacy. She hasn’t even told friends at school about the day that left her in fear.
“Very scared," she said.
It was Sept. 25. Since then, her mother said she's been a prisoner in her own home on Kew Gardens Drive in the Florissant area. She’s afraid to go outside after getting attacked by the pack of stray dogs.
“I was running away from it. And it bit me," said the 7-year-old.
“I was upset. I was furious," said her mother, Tessica Caradine.
Caradine said she’d been begging St. Louis County Animal Care and Control, or ACC, for help.
“I called them a good three or four times," she said.
She said she made calls to ACC after seeing a pack of stray dogs on her Ring camera the week before.
“No one had came. No one has returned my phone calls, anything," said Caradine.
When county officials showed up at her home, she said the animal control officer told her that even with six stray dogs on her property, there was nothing he could do. And she said a police officer told her something she never expected.
“I'm like, 'Well, what do you suggest? Since there's nothing you can do what do you suggest?' He told me to shoot the dogs," said Caradine.
A St. Louis County police spokesperson said people should defend themselves if they’re getting attacked. The ACC officer, Caradine said, agreed with the police officer’s advice to shoot stray dogs herself. The I-Team obtained that ACC officer’s official statement describing that day, which told a different story. He wrote “I… will never tell someone outright to shoot a dog."
“I could have accidentally killed my daughter. I could have shot through the home of someone else," said Caradine.
Caradine believes the advice highlights how people in her community are being put at risk. Just three months ago, a man in St. Louis was killed by wild dogs.
“It just makes me cry because that could have been my daughter," said Caradine.
“I want change. We pay taxes. We deserve it," she said.
We pressed county officials for answers. An ACC spokesperson declined to be recorded. They told the I-Team on a phone call that the county’s animal shelter is on what’s called “emergency status.” It means they’re full and can’t respond to every call. They say they’re prioritizing the most serious calls, like if someone’s been bitten.
“That makes no sense to me," said Caradine.
When an ACC officer finally showed up at her home, Caradine said he didn’t take the stray dogs off the street. ACC told us it’s because the officer already had two dogs in his car, and couldn’t safely take in more. We asked why they didn’t call for backup. Backup, they said, was too far away.
“There are little kids that walk to school by themselves. What if one of these kids are mauled by dogs?” said Caradine. “I feel if this was in a different neighborhood, it would have been taken care of.”
A county animal shelter spokesperson tells us all bites are taken equally seriously. Caradine is skeptical.
“No one has returned my call to let me know the dogs have been taken in, or what has happened, what’s the result," she said.
ACC told us they’re still working to find the stray dogs.
It means Caradine and her family are still living in fear of another attack.
An ACC spokesperson says oversight of the county animal shelter will switch before the end of the year to an area nonprofit, called Animal Protective Association. They hope this will help address a growing problem they can’t keep up with: an explosion in the number of stray dogs. It’s often because owners abandon them. Here's one way you can help combat this problem and adopt.
We also reached out to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s Office about whether we’ll see a bigger budget for animal control. “Since we will be paying APA to operate, we will not need as much funding for day-to-day operations (APA will absorb some of our employees),” said St. Louis County Executive spokesperson Doug Moore in an email. “The budget process for 2023 officially got underway this week with the county council meeting with each department to go over proposed budget for next year. That includes the Health Department budget, and this issue of ACC funding will be among the discussion points.”
A spokesman for the Humane Society said funding will be
If you’re in the Florissant area and you see a pack of around six stray dogs, an ACC spokesperson urges you to get in touch: 314-615-0650 (regular number), 636-529-8210 (after hours).