A Georgia Southern University professor was charged with animal cruelty last week after a police officer reported he saw him sic his dog on a cat and then urge the dog to “get it.”
Lance Anthony Durden, who is a professor in the Department of Biology, according to Christian Flathman, director of marketing and communications at Georgia Southern, was walking a black and white dog that appeared to be a bulldog near Lakeside Café on Dec. 28. Georgia Southern Police Officer William Kicklighter said he observed Durden and his dog as he was on patrol of the campus.
A few minutes later, Kicklighter heard the dog “begin to whine and give a series of small barks like it was baying an animal,” he said in reports.
Kicklighter said he recognized the sound from having hunted with dogs for several years. He drove closer to the area from where he heard the dog and noticed an orange cat in a tree.
“I noticed the cat tumbling out of the tree, like it had been knocked down,” he wrote in the report. “I then heard the dog begin growling and barking, while the cat was screaming and calling like it was in pain and distress.”
Kicklighter left his car and went in search of the commotion. He said he spotted Durden standing with the leash in his hand, and the dog still leashed on the other end, down an embankment, he said.
“The dog was biting at the cat, and grabbed the cat in its mouth and began shaking it violently. The cat tried defending itself by biting and scratching at the dog.”
Kicklighter reported hearing Durden urge his dog to attack the cat.
“I also noticed and heard Mr. Durden say several times for the dog to get the cat – ‘get it, get it, get it.’”
As Kicklighter made his way to Durden, he noted the cat was motionless and apparently dead, he stated in reports.
“Mr. Durden did not notice me at the time. At this point the cat had quit fighting … was no longer making any sounds and appeared to be deceased.”
Then, Kicklighter saw Durden as he “pushed the deceased cat with his foot towards the dog and commanded it to ‘get it' again.”
Unsure of the dog’s viciousness towards humans, Kicklighter called for backup before approaching Durden.
After several calls to Durden, to which he did not respond, he finally stopped, Kicklighter reported. When officers asked whether the dog was violent, “he did not respond.”
Durden complied with orders to walk the dog to the patrol car, and told officers his dog chased the cat up the tree, but the cat then jumped out of the tree and attacked his dog, according to reports.
Officers arrested Durden, 56, for animal cruelty and took him to the Bulloch County Jail. The dog was initially confiscated by Bulloch County Humane Officer Christopher Ivey, but then later returned to Durden’s wife, according to Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn.
“Ivey felt the attack was not the dog’s fault, but that the person handling it was at fault,” he said.
The dog was not deemed a danger on its own, which was the reason it was returned to the owner’s wife, Wynn said.
Georgia Southern University Police Chief Mike Russell said Ivey told him Bulloch animal control would investigate if there are any other violent incidents in the dog’s past.
Also, Russell said the while Durden was charged with a misdemeanor, the incident is under review.
The difference between misdemeanor animal cruelty and felony animal cruelty is whether “it was of an aggravated nature,” he said.
Section C of Title 16, Section 16-12-4 of the Georgia Code reads:
“A person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she knowingly and maliciously causes death or physical harm to an animal by rendering a part of such animal´s body useless or by seriously disfiguring such animal.”
Durden has been a member of the GSU faculty since 1995. According to his biography posted online, he has a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the Royal Holloway College at the University of London, England, and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of London.
Durden could not be reached for comment.