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Lakeland Florida


Published Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Neighbors Raise Stink Over Wolfdogs

LAKELAND -- George Killingsworth will owe the city of Lakeland $16,000 in code enforcement fines by the end of week for the 17 foul-smelling wolfdogs he keeps at his on home West Alamo Drive.

But Killingsworth, who has fought his neighbors and the city for four years, vows he'll never pay.

"They're not going to get a dime out of me," Killingsworth said.

The dispute involves animals that are part wolf and part dog, mostly German Shepherd or Malamute, and range in size from 70 to 150 pounds. They live in pens in Killingsworth's front and back yards in the Southwest Lakeland neighborhood.


John Tidwell holds Smokey, a 2-month-old wolfdog, at George Killingsworth's home and rescue.
Enlarge this photo  

He's one of a number of breeders around the country that raise and sell the animals, which have more slanted eyes, a narrower gait, longer legs, and a thinner chest than a regular dog. Some breeders refer to them as hybrid wolves, other prefer the term wolfdogs.

They've been called a variety of other names by Killingsworth's neighbors.

The neighbors and a principal at nearby St. Paul's Lutheran School worry the animals will escape and hurt someone. And they want a neighborhood free of constant barking and the smell of feces.

"They are annoying and nasty-smelling," said neighbor Melvie Brown, 65. "Those dogs would be better off if they were put to sleep."

"They should be in the wild."

Complaints like Brown's have led county and city officials to make numerous visits to Killingsworth's home.

"I've been out there 65 times," said Jim Dehne, a code enforcement officer for the city. "It's totally unsanitary out there."

"The neighbors can't open their windows."

Since April 2002, Killingsworth has amassed fines of $25 a day at the order of Lakeland's code enforcement board. So far, he owes $15,950.

He owes the county about $450 for citations issued for allowing two of the wolfdogs to escape from their pens.

Lakeland City Commissioner Howard Wiggs was unaware of the wolves but said it appears the high number of animals are disturbing the neighborhood.

"It sounds like something we (the commission) need to talk about and come up with a resolution," Wiggs said. "I can't imagine that would be beneficial to a neighborhood."

The two animals who escaped from their pens, one about a month and one about a week ago, caused slight panics in the community and at St. Paul Lutheran Church and School on Harden Boulevard.

One of the wolves walked onto the school property then ambled away, said St. Paul's Principal Leo Raschke.

"We are monitoring it as closely as we can," Raschke said.

Killingsworth, who has lived on West Alamo Drive since 1999, sees himself as the animals' only hope and remains defiant.

"I am a second chance for these animals," he said. "A lot of these animals are friendlier than dogs."

If hybrid wolves are found in Polk County, they are picked up and euthanized if no one claims them, said Eddy de Castro, director of Polk County Animal Services.

Killingsworth's wolfdogs have forced the county to tinker with the pet ordinances. Before the Killingsworth situation arose, hybrid wolves weren't covered by the county's animal control ordinance.

Now, owners of the animals must follow leash laws and purchase a license every year, de Castro said.

Animal Control officials said Killingsworth has not mistreated the animals.

"There is no neglect, cruelty or abuse," de Castro said.

De Castro said the dogs have enough space in Killingsworth's back and front yard. A fence surrounds the wolves at Killingsworth's home.

In his front yard there is a fairly spacious area for the gray and white wolfdogs to move around. In the back, they are kept in five separate pens that range in size from 15-by-18 feet to 32-by-16 feet.

Part Native American, Killingsworth has named some of the dogs Grey Cloud, Cherokee, and Little Big Wolf. In addition to the adult dogs, Killingsworth has nine puppies inside his home that he hopes to sell.

Killingsworth said he picks up feces twice a day in the pens and spends about $800 a year on veterinarian bills.

"My dogs are well taken care of," he said. "If I'm forced, I'll take my animals and move to another county."

The city has made it difficult for Killingsworth to leave by placing a code enforcement lien on his home. If he chooses to sell his home or get a loan, he would be forced to pay the fee or ask the board to reduce it.

It would be unlikely if the city forced Killingsworth to pay the whole amount he owes, Lakeland city clerk Kelly Koos said.

She said they could demand he repay the city's cost for working the case.

Meanwhile, the barking never seems to stop for Brown and neighbor Shataria Myrick, 17.

"They are like an alarm clock," Myrick said. "They start whining and barking at 6 a.m."

Brown is trying to sell her house.

"Naturally the dogs will decrease the value of this house," Brown said. "But they are one reason why I'm moving."



Published Saturday, January 31, 2004

City Stumped by Man and His Wolfdogs

The owner of the animals says he will not allow the city to touch "a single dog."

LAKELAND -- City commissioners say they're not crying wolf in their desire to rid a Southwest Lakeland neighborhood of a bunch of hybrid dogs.

"There is no silver bullet to end this," said City Attorney Tim McCausland on Friday of the long standoff over a Lakeland man's wolfdogs. "But it is clear that we have to get more aggressive," McCausland said.

The city can get aggressive all it wants, George Killingsworth said.

"As soon as they step foot in my yard, they'll regret it," he said late Friday. "They better not touch one hair on a single dog."

Polk sheriff's deputies would accompany animal control officers if the dogs were ever confiscated, city officials said.

Since April 2002, Killingsworth, who lives on West Alamo Drive, near St. Paul's Lutheran School, has been fined $25 per day for code violations related to his animals. That totals more than $16,000, not including $450 for allowing two dogs to escape.

City officials say there are between 20 and 30 wolfdogs on the property, but Killingsworth said he's down to 17 -- from a high of 50 -- and still can't satisfy the city.

"They want me to have none, and that's communism," he said. "The code enforcement officers are out here every seven or eight days. That's harassment."

He's one of a number of breeders around the country who raise and sell the animals, which have more slanted eyes, a narrower gait, longer legs, and a thinner chest than a regular dog. Some breeders refer to them as hybrid wolves, others prefer the term wolfdogs.

Killingsworth says he rescues abandoned wolfdogs who would probably die otherwise. And he says he takes excellent care of them.

The neighbors say the wolfdogs just plain stink, howl and bark. But Killingsworth disagrees, saying the wolfdogs are no louder than other dogs and that he scoops droppings two or three times a day.

Killingsworth's wolfdogs have forced Polk County, which handles animal control for Lakeland, to tinker with its pet ordinances. Before the Killingsworth situation arose, hybrid wolves weren't covered by the county's animal control ordinance.

Now, owners of the animals must follow leash laws and purchase a license every year, animal control officials said.

Also, Lakeland city code enforcers say Killingsworth's wolfdog colony is unsanitary.

Commissioners say that what Killingsworth is doing isn't as much a problem as where he's doing it.

But Killingsworth said he can't move -- because of the $16,000 lien the city could exercise if he sold his house.

City officials debated several possible solutions that would rid the neighborhood of the wolfdogs.

The solution they liked best was to go to court to force Killingsworth to pay his $16,000 fine. If he doesn't, the city could confiscate his dogs.

The problem, Assistant City Attorney Palmer Davis said, is the city has to have somewhere to take the wolfdogs.

Davis said he spoke with Polk County Animal Services Director Eddy de Castro after the meeting, and the county animal shelter has room for the wolfdogs, but doesn't have the cages in which to house them. The city could buy cages and be reimbursed later, Davis said.

The city would subsequently sell the dogs at auction.

Commissioner Jim Verplanck had a different solution.

Verplanck said he heard Killingsworth was interested in moving to New Mexico.

"What would it cost to move him to Albuquerque?" Verplanck asked, to laughter. A moving bill, he said, might end up being the cheapest fix.


Published Saturday, February 14, 2004

City Petitions Court To Force Out Wolfdogs

LAKELAND -- City lawyers figure there's more than one way to outfox a man with a pack of wolfdogs.

Assistant City Attorney Palmer Davis has filed papers in Circuit Court to force an Alamo Drive man to get his 15 wolfdogs off his property, which is near St. Paul's Lutheran School.

City officials have been frustrated by George Killingsworth. He owes the city more than $16,000 for code enforcement fines for what the city -- and Killingsworth's neighbors -- say are noise and odor violations caused by his big dogs that are part wolf.

Killingsworth said Friday that he now has 15 of the hybrids, down from a high of 40. He declined further comment.

Killingsworth so far has been true to his word. He hasn't paid a dime of his code enforcement fines. The city's lawyers say that if Killingsworth won't listen to the Code Enforcement Board,

maybe he'll listen to a circuit judge.

In a request filed with the Circuit Court in Bartow, Davis asks that the court force Killingsworth to rid the property of the dogs.

"Killingsworth's maintenance of wolfdogs on the property and his demonstrated inability to properly confine the animals on the property constitutes a danger to the life and safety of not only the residents of Killingsworth's neighborhood, but also the children attending child care and the school program at St. Paul's," Davis wrote to the court.

Davis is asking for a temporary injunction that would force Killingsworth to quickly remove the dogs before a full-fledged hearing is held. At the more indepth hearing, the city is asking for a permanent injunction.

A hearing date for the temporary injunction likely will be set next week.

Davis said that if Killingsworth ignores a judge's order that he remove the dogs, he could be found in contempt and the dogs would be removed by Polk County Animal Services and probably taken to a shelter in Hillsborough County.


Published Friday, April 2, 2004

Wolf Dogs Will Be Leaving County

The last 15 animals will exit Polk within 60 days.

LAKELAND -- George Killingsworth agreed Thursday to move his 15 wolf dogs out of Polk County.

Complaints from his neighbors about the danger, smell and noise created by the dogs brought code enforcement action from the city of Lakeland resulting in nearly $18,000 in fines and a date in Circuit Court on Thursday.

But a hearing before Circuit Judge Robert Doyel was avoided when Killingsworth, his lawyer, Assistant City Attorney Palmer Davis and Doyel signed an injunction that forces Killingsworth's wolf dogs out of Polk County. He has 60 days to move the animals.

The safety of the neighborhood was "absolutely" the main concern, Davis said. "Our primary goal was the removal of the wolf dogs, and we accomplished that."

Killingsworth's home is near St. Paul's Lutheran School.

At one time, he had 43 hybrid wolf dogs at his Lakeland home on West Alamo Drive east of Harden Boulevard.

Killingsworth says he is unsure of his next move. So far, his options are the Florida Panhandle, Montana, New Mexico or an Indian reservation.

But he is absolutely sure about one thing: Wherever the dogs go -- he goes with them.

"I trust the dogs far more than I do people," Killinsgworth said Thursday. "Especially after what happened today."

Killingsworth said he signed the deal because the fines against him were reduced to $3,300. He said his lawyer, Michael Robinson, "said it was the best we could do and I got 15 grand off my back."

However, Killingsworth said he did not see the provision that he had to move the dogs out of Polk County before signing it. He said he felt as if he has been had and would not have signed the deal had he known about the countywide ban. "I can see that they wanted the dogs out of the city, but why can't I move them out to the county?" he asked.

Killingsworth's neighbors are pleased to learn the dogs will be gone within two months.

Trenton Gifford, 67, said the howling dogs can be heard near and far. "I'm glad to hear something is being done about it," he said. "It sure is a blight on the neighborhood."


Published Friday, April 23, 2004

Wolf Dogs Escape, Kill Neighbor's Chow Dog

LAKELAND -- Neighbors had feared for years that the pack of wolf dogs next door would hurt someone.

That is why they, and Lakeland city code enforcement, have fought a long battle with owner George Killingsworth to remove the wolf dogs from their Alamo Road-area neighborhood.

Now, it seems, the neighbors' fears have proven to be justified. Thursday, just more than a month before a legal settlement dictates they must leave the area, two of the wolf dogs escaped from Killingsworth's yard and killed the Chow dog next door that belonged to 53year-old Anibal Ramos.

Ramos, while mourning the loss of his dog, Winnie, also imagined other horrors that might have happened.

"What if that was my son?" Ramos said. "My wife and son are afraid to go into the back yard. We can't play on our own property because at anytime the wolf dogs could hop the fence or dig a hole and escape."

Ramos said he heard the animals scuffling outside his house around midnight Thursday. He looked out his window to see Winnie, who was leashed to a small wooden dog house, under attack from two of the wolf dogs.

"I saw them biting my dog around the neck and twisting her," Ramos said. "Then they dragged her to the other side of the yard."

By the time Ramos went to get his flashlight and came back to the window, Winnie, who weighed about 50 pounds, was lying on the ground, and the two wolf dogs were prowling around his back yard.

A report from the Lakeland Police Department said the dog was found dead about 75 feet from her doghouse.

For the next three hours, a Polk County Animal Control officer and Killingsworth, 54, the owner of the wolf dogs, chased the animals around the neighborhood on Alamo Drive near St. Paul's Lutheran School.

Killingsworth said the dogs were running because of fear.

"Everyone was chasing them, getting them all excited and hyper," Killingsworth said. "They got scared."

Eventually the wolf dogs tired and went back into their pen on Killingsworth's property. Animal Services removed the two wolf dogs and drove them to be impounded.

During transport, the male wolf dog, Wah-ta, who weighed about 110 pounds, died from capture myopathy, said Eddy de Castro, director of Animal Services.

That's a metabolic condition that affects wild animals when they are restrained, de Castro said. So much acid builds up on the animals' muscles that they go into stress and die, he said.

Apparently, the wolf dogs escaped into Ramos' yard by digging a hole under the fence.

Killingsworth said Winnie was in heat. He said the attack started when Wah-ta went over to Winnie and the 90-pound female wolf dog, Waya, got jealous.

After the attack, Ramos declined Killingsworth's offer to buy him another dog.

"I don't want another dog when his are still there," Ramos said.

"I know I can't replace Winnie, but I tried to get him another dog," Killingsworth said. "I thought that was fair."

Ramos has had Winnie since she was born six years ago. He got the dog the same day his son, Joshua, was born.

"Winnie was like a sister to my son," Ramos said. "I loved my dog, and now my son doesn't have a pet."

Killingsworth said he understands that connection.

"They are my babies," Killingsworth said of his 14 remaining wolf dogs. "I know each and every one of them. If I am in the house and I hear one bark, I know which one it is."

Killingsworth said his wolf dogs are safe and provide a spiritual connection to his Native American ancestry.

"We believe the wolf's spirit is sacred," he said, referring to members of the Cherokee and Creek tribes. "Each one is a symbol of the spiritual guidance I need every day."

This is the first time the wolf dogs have attacked anything but Ramos said that doesn't stop him from being nervous, especially because the dogs have escaped into his yard several times before.

"That's what we have to remember -- these are not dogs, they are wild animals," de Castro said. "Don't expect them to come to you wagging their tail. They are escape artists and always challenge authority. You cannot domesticate a wolf."

Killingsworth signed an injunction April 1 to get his dogs out of the county by June 1. It seemed to end a four-year battle over the pack of wolf dogs.

Complaints from his neighbors about the danger, smell and noise created by the dogs brought code enforcement action from the city of Lakeland resulting in nearly $18,000 in fines and finally a court date.

The injunction was part of a settlement to resolve the code enforcement case.

Animal Services is going to hold the female wolf dog until an animal rescuer expert from Tampa comes to get her and the rest of Killingsworth's pack.

Killingsworth plans to move with his dogs to the Florida panhandle or to Alabama.

The injunction remains in place, and the city will take no further action against Killingsworth because of the incident, said Palmer Davis, assistant city attorney.


Contempt of court against wolf dog owner


Killingsworth has dozens of the animals.

There are more legal problems for a Lakeland man who keeps a large number of wolfdogs at his home.

The city filed contempt of court papers against George Killingsworth Wednesday because he hasn't followed through on a legal deal to remove the dogs from his home.
The city and some neighbors consider the dogs to be a safety problem. Two of Killingsworth's wolfdogs got loose in April and killed a neighbor's dog.

Killingsworth's friend, Rhonda White, says he is still trying to find homes for the dogs.

"There's breeders out there," said White. "Maybe if they just knew. Maybe we could turn this into a positive. The coverage. If there is anybody out there. If you breed hybrid wolfs, get ahold of somebody."

Judge Robert Doyel will consider the contempt of court allegations on Monday in Bartow.


Published Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Moving Deadline Passes For Owner of Wolf Dogs

George Killingsworth says he will give away his 10 dogs.

LAKELAND -- The lone wolf says he is trying to work with the city.

Embattled canine owner George Killingsworth said he was not able to meet the court-imposed deadline Tuesday to get rid of all the wolf dogs at his West Alamo Drive home. But he said he plans to give away the remaining 10 animals as soon as possible.

"I was going to try and find a place to live with the animals," he said. "But I think I'm going to give them to my friend."

As of Tuesday afternoon, he had not contacted his friend about taking the wolf dogs. So he said he would be unable to comply with the deadline.

And he said he would have to give his friend time to build cages for the canines. He didn't specify where the friend lives, other than to say the person is in Florida.

Lakeland city spokesman Kevin Cook said the city will have to take action since Killingsworth has not.

"If the dogs are still there (Wednesday), then we will file for contempt of court," he said. "And a judge will decide from there what to do."

Killingsworth, who has diabetes, said his health has been failing because of the stress caused by his situation.

"The way I'm going, all this stress is going to kill me," he said. "And I don't think the city wants to kill me. If they do, they can just come shoot me."

He said he has called real estate agents to try to find a place to live with the dogs. And he's contacted many wolf-dog rescue organizations to find a home for his animals. He said all of them were full.

"I am trying to work it out," he said.

Assistant City Attorney Palmer Davis said Federal Wolf-dog Rescue in Largo would have room for the dogs in about a week. But he said the animals would all have to be spayed or neutered.

"(Killingsworth) said that he can't live with that condition," Davis said. "Our position is that something's got to happen here."

Killingsworth said he will get rid of the dogs when he can.

"I'm not going to keep the animals if it's going to kill me," he said.


Published Thursday, June 3, 2004

City Presses Wolf Dogs' Owner to Remove Them

LAKELAND -- The city of Lakeland followed through Wednesday with the legal action it promised against wolf dog owner George Killingsworth.

Meanwhile, Killingsworth is scurrying to get rid of the dogs before the city takes another step.

The city filed court papers seeking to hold Killingsworth in contempt of court for missing the deadline he was given to get rid of his wolf dogs, said Kevin Cook, spokesman for the city.

That deadline passed late Tuesday night.

Killingsworth is now scheduled to appear before Judge Robert Doyel on Monday at 2:15 p.m.

Killingsworth, who lives on West Alamo Drive, said he missed the Tuesday deadline because his original plans to house the animals in Tampa fell through one week before the deadline.

On Wednesday, Killingsworth said he accepts that he and the dogs probably won't get to live together. So far he has found homes for eight of the 17 wolf dogs, selling some of them for $100.

"I am just trying to get the animals down," Killingsworth said. "I am doing the best I can."

Neighbors have long complained about the pack of wolf dogs, saying they resent the noise and smell and fear for their safety and the safety of the neighborhood's children.

The wolf dogs have never attacked a person. However in late April, two of Killingsworth's wolf dogs escaped from his yard and killed his neighbors' chow. Polk County Animal Services then spent the night chasing the wolf dogs around the neighborhood, one of which died upon capture.

The new injunction "puts the ball in (Killingsworth's) court," Cook said. "He can either adhere to the original injunction or give them over to the Federal Wolfdog Rescue in Largo."

That rescue agency said it could make room for the dogs in a week on condition they are spayed or neutered.

"I am not going to do that," Killingsworth said. "I promised that I would not do that. I am going to find homes for all of them."

He said he was referring to the promise he made to his adopted parents, who live in the Panhandle, that he would not spay or neuter the animals.

Killingsworth said he's more and more devastated by each dog's departure.

"If I separate from my wolves all the way, I think my spirit is going to leave," Killingsworth said. "It hurts. It's like someone taking a loved one away."

Cook said the penalty for missing the deadline is up to the judge, but if the wolf dogs are not gone by the scheduled court date, Killingsworth could face jail time.

"We don't want to see him go to jail," Cook said. "But anything could happen."

Killingsworth said that regardless of what happens, he still intends to find a home for himself and his wolf dogs, either close to his adopted parents or outside the state.

"Once the dogs are gone, I'm gone," he said. "Then I'll get my health back up and buy some land for me and them."



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