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Couple Fights City Hall to Save Their Dog

SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) - A married couple sued Savannah to save the life of their dog, Oreo, which they say the city seized for biting a little girl who trespassed and "teased and tormented" the dog by playing with his food bowl in front of him.

The Wootens claim that Savannah Chatham Animal Control kept Oreo in unsanitary, inhumane conditions, denied him medical treatment and "vilified" him by calling him a "pit bull mix breed" though they knew he is a full-blooded American bulldog.

Patricia and Michael Wooten sued Savannah Chatham Animal Control, the city of Savannah and Animal Control officers Brenda Boulware and George Smith, in Chatham County Superior Court.

Plaintiffs include the Lexus Project, a trust set up for Oreo, and its president Robin Mittasch.

The Wootens claim that Boulware and Smith showed up at their house when the bite was reported, but did not take Oreo right away.

They say the officers came back 2 hours later, lied about the gravity of the bite and threatened to arrest Michael Wooten, then took Oreo to an Animal Control shelter.

"Boulware and Smith confirmed Oreo was up to date on his shots and had a proper enclosure (i.e., privacy fence around the perimeter of the property and a chain-link fence pen enclosure with locks in the back yard, within the perimeter of the privacy fence) and saw no need to take him into custody," the complaint states. "They left the property after investigating the circumstances of the bite and Oreo was not taken into custody.

"More than two (2) hours after their initial visit to Oreo's home, Boulware and Smith returned with no less than three (3) Savannah Chatham Metro Police (SCMPD) officers and demanded to take Oreo into custody. Boulware and Smith knowingly and willingly misrepresented to Oreo's owners, the Wootens, that the minor child suffered more severe injuries than she in fact had suffered. Boulware and Smith further knowingly and willingly misrepresented to the Wootens that they would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in costs and fees to bond, insure, micro-chip, and neuter, among other things, Oreo, none of which the Wootens were able to afford. Boulware and Smith further threatened to arrest Mr. Wooten if Mrs. Wooten did not go out back and retrieve Oreo so they could take him into custody." (Parentheses in complaint).

Feeling that the officers had misled them, the Wootens went to the shelter to retrieve Oreo, but were told they could not have him.

"Boulware and Smith told the Wootens they voluntarily gave up Oreo and that he was now going to be labeled a dangerous dog and that they would never have custody of him again," the complaint states. "Furthermore, Boulware had Mr. Wooten banned from the premises without good cause and Mr. Wooten has not been allowed to visit with or see Oreo."

The Wootens say the city seized Oreo in violation of the Constitution and of county animal control ordinances, and are planning to "execute" him.

"Since word of Savannah Chatham Animal Control's seizure of and intent to label Oreo a dangerous dog and execute him, Oreo's plight has garnered nationwide support," according to the complaint. "The 'Free Oreo' Facebook page currently has hundreds of followers, a number that has been growing by the hour. Hundreds of dollars have been donated to this cause from supporters across the country."

The Wootens say the city regularly kills animals in its custody.

"It is believed Savannah Chatham Animal Control has a policy of denying any shelter to shelter transfers. Instead, it routinely kills animals when the required hold period has expired, wasting city resources and upsetting animal owners," the complaint states.

"It is further believed that it is the common custom and practice of Boulware and Smith to mislead, misinform and knowingly misrepresent the city of Savannah animal control ordinances to the citizens of Savannah so as to induce them into 'abandoning' or 'giving up' their rights to their pets, as in the present case, and then dispose of them as they see fit, without due regard for the owners, the animals, or their duties as city officials."

The Wootens claim Animal Control deprived Oreo of medical care, a clean living space, proper nutrition and human interaction.

"Oreo is currently being held in a facility that houses strays and diseased animals and has been exposed to kennel cough, Giardia, distemper, and various other diseases that can be detrimental to his health and even deadly," the complaint states. "Every day that he is being held at SCAC, Boulware and Smith are putting Oreo's health at risk, without due regard for his right to be free of disease and the Wootens' right to have their dog housed in a safe and sanitary environment.

"At all times mentioned herein, SCAC, Boulware and Smith have continually referred to Oreo as a 'pit bull mix breed' when they know, and have seen documentation confirming, that he is a full-blooded American Bulldog. This misinformation was knowingly, willingly, and with malicious intent disseminated to the Savannah Chatham Police Department and the public at large in order to vilify Oreo and further promulgate public fear of pit bulls."

The Wootens say the city would save money by releasing their dog.

"There is no reason for Savannah Chatham Animal Control to label Oreo as a dangerous dog since it is clear and undisputed that the minor child knowingly and willingly trespassed into Oreo's yard where he was properly enclosed and lawfully situated and then teased and tormented him by playing with his food bowl," the complaint states.

The Wootens want their dog back and they want the defendants enjoined from killing, transferring or selling Oreo.

They are represented by Mareesa Torres with Taylor English Duma.

According to Savannah Morning News, the Wootens' dog bit a neighbor's 6-year-old daughter on the face. The girl received six stitches and was seen by a plastic surgeon earlier this month.

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