RED OAK - Three pit bulls on Josey Lane are creating a sense of unease amongst neighbors.

Both sides in the issue say they like each other and have gotten along well as neighbors - except as it relates to the pit bulls, which recently attacked Domino, an Australian shepherd. That attack has resulted in more fences being put up and a vet bill in excess of $2,000.

In an interview with the Daily Light, Herman Babers, the pit bulls’ owner, acknowledges his dogs attacked the shepherd in the shepherd’s own yard.

He said his dogs were provoked, however, by the shepherd coming onto his property, which Babers said put his dogs “into a rage,” causing them to break through their gate. The pit bulls gave chase to the shepherd, Babers said, saying all of the canines went into the shepherd’s back yard through what he said was a hole in the fence.

The shepherd’s owner, Laurie Landry, told the Daily Light in an interview that’s not how the incident occurred. She says the pit bulls jumped their gate to roam the neighborhood and then came onto her property, jumping her fence to attack her son’s 2-year-old shepherd.

“He got massive bite wounds,” Landry said of the dog’s extensive injuries. “He was bit from his head to his hindquarters. He had a 4-inch gash on his leg that goes clean to the bone. He’s having trouble healing that, and he has a hole in his chest.

“He didn’t deserve what happened to him,” Landry said. “My dog was in its own fenced-in back yard.”

There’s a disconcerting atmosphere now on the quiet residential street, where people typically get along. Landry describes Babers, their next door neighbor, as a “nice, quiet man.”

“Nobody has a problem with being his neighbor. We have a problem in being a neighbor to his dogs,” she said.

Babers said his dogs have never jumped the fence to roam the neighborhood. The only times they have been loose - besides breaking through the gate to go after other dogs that have come onto his property, he said - were when a workman left his gate open.

Landry disagrees, saying there are witnesses - including a sheriff’s deputy - who have seen the pit bulls jump their gate. She said she questions why anyone would own a dog capable of attacking.

Babers is apologetic for the incident but says he’s loves his dogs and describes them as loving, humble pets. He said they do become angry, however, when they see another dog on his property, and he acknowledges his dogs attacked the shepherd as well as attacked another dog several years ago.

He insists, however, that people don’t have any reason to worry, saying his dogs would never hurt a human.

He has neighbors who disagree, though. And they cite several instances where they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable when his dogs have been loose.

There have been at least a half-dozen incidents involving Babers’ dogs (there have been two groups of three pit bulls each) in the past several years, with the history going back to when his first group of three pit bulls broke through their gate and chased a Schnauzer back to its home. That dog’s owner fired numerous rounds into the pit bulls, killing two and injuring the third, a puppy, which ran home.

Although wounded, the young pit bull survived, with Babers since acquiring two more pit bulls, returning the number back to three that he owns. That group, which is the current group and the one that hurt the shepherd, are concerning, Landry said, saying neighbors are worried when the dogs get loose and are running around.

She reports the dogs have run toward people walking their dogs and also “cornered” a man in his garage before he was able to get into his house.

Through the years, Babers’ neighbors have put up fencing as a barrier between their yards and his. Prior to the attack on the shepherd, the Landry family and Babers’ neighbors to the south had already erected privacy fences on their adjoining property lines with him to prevent any access by the pit bulls. Since the attack, the Landrys have put up additional privacy fences.

“Since this happened, I can’t tell you how we feel. We’ve added to our privacy fence and we’re enclosing the rest of our property. We’re out a lot of money,” Landry said. “And this man has done nothing to his property. He’s doing nothing to make sure his dogs don’t get out.”

Although the shepherd is expected to recover from the attack, the healing process could take as much as three months and will be expensive. Landry said she has filed a claim against Babers’ homeowner policy to cover the cost.

Babers said his insurance company has contacted him about the claim. The vet bill will be paid, he said, adding that the insurance company has told him to put up additional fencing to prevent his dogs getting out. He already had “Beware of the Dog” signage in place on his fence.

Babers does intend to fight the county’s citation in justice of the peace court. He said he’s been advised to plead not guilty and that a sheriff’s deputy told him there’s a difference between a dog breaking out and a dog being allowed to run loose. Babers said he’ll testify his dogs were provoked into making the attack.

Babers also said he wants his neighbors to keep their dogs on their property as much as they want him to keep his in his yard.

“The law goes for all of us,” he said, saying animal control officers have told him he needs to call in when he sees other people’s dogs running loose. “They said I need to call in to protect myself.”

Landry describes the neighborhood as “desperate” and said it appears that a person has to be bitten or attacked before there are any repercussions.

“I don’t know what we have to do, I don’t know what we have to prove,” she said.

According to the county’s animal control ordinance, an animal can be determined to be “vicious” after having committed an unprovoked attack on another animal or a human.

If an animal is deemed vicious, the owner can be ordered by a peace officer to permanently remove the animal from the county. The removal has to be immediate even if an appeal is filed, which must be done in writing within 10 days. A committee that includes representatives from the sheriff’s office, county judge’s office and county attorney’s office hears any appeal.

“Such committee may uphold, reverse or modify the peace officer’s order or may stipulate restrictions on the animals as a condition to allowing the animal to remain in the county,” the ordinance reads. “If the committee upholds the animal control’s order, the owner or person having care, control or custody shall not bring the animal back inside the county.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Danny Williams said he knows of at least one case where the owner of an animal deemed vicious was required by the committee to put up a $100,000 bond to keep his animal in the county.

Although it’s not applicable to dog on dog attacks, the state Legislature has passed a new law effective Sept. 1 that could see dog owners facing prison time if their dog attacks a person.

House Bill 1355, known as “Lillian’s Law,” elevates a dog attack on a human under certain circumstances to a felony charge. Current law only allows a class C misdemeanor charge to be filed - no matter the degree or severity of the attack.

Under Lillian’s Law, an attack causing serious bodily injury could be charged as a third-degree felony, punishable by a prison term of from two to 10 years and a $10,000 fine. An attack causing the death of a person could be charged as a second-degree felony, punishable by a prison term of from two to 20 years and a $10,000 fine.

An attack that causes bodily injury would remain a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Lillian’s Law is named in memory of 76-year-old Lillian Stiles, who was killed when six dogs attacked her in her yard near Austin.

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com