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Keel takes stand against animal cruelty
GSU president 'distressed' by professor's arrest
Brooks Keel mug
Georgia Southern President Dr. Brooks Keel

Georgia Southern University President Dr. Brooks Keel said Thursday he is “very distressed” regarding a GSU professor’s arrest for animal cruelty.
Biology professor Lance Durden was charged with animal cruelty last week during the college’s winter break. A university police officer said he saw him sic his dog on a cat and then urge the dog to “get it.”
According to reports, Durden, 56, was walking a black and white dog that appeared to be a bulldog near Lakeside Café when the attack occurred. 
In a statement released Thursday, Keel said “I was recently made aware of the arrest … I am personally very distressed by the allegations and I find any abuse or torture of animals to be completely unacceptable.”
He said the detailed report by GSU Police Officer William Kicklighter, who witnessed the incident, makes the incident “appear to be truly egregious.”
“Animal cruelty is not only wrong – it is against the law,” he said. “As a result of the police officer’s observations, the professor was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals.  We are continuing to investigate the incident and Georgia Southern University will take appropriate internal action based on the findings of the investigation and criminal process.”
According to Kicklighter’s report, he saw Durden walking the dog and minutes later heard the dog barking as if it were baying an animal.
He went to investigate and saw an orange cat tumble from a tree.
“I noticed the cat tumbling out of the tree, like it had been knocked down,” he wrote. “I then heard the dog begin growling and barking, while the cat was screaming and calling like it was in pain and distress.”
Then he saw Durden’s dog bite the cat, take it in his jaws and shake it, killing it while Durden urged the dog repeatedly to “get it, get it, get it.”
When the cat was motionless and appeared to be dead, Kicklighter said he saw Durden kick it with his foot towards the dog, saying once more, “get it.”
The dog remained leashed during the entire incident, the officer reported.

Felony charge?
GSU Police Chief Mike Russell said Kicklighter and Major Laura McCullough discussed the incident, and based on Georgia law, decided the charge would be of a misdemeanor status.
However, court officials handling the case could deem Durden’s acts more serious, and it is possible a judge or district attorney could upgrade the charge to felony status, he said.
“We certainly would defer to the wisdom of the courts,” he said. As for the incident, he said: “We continue to look into it and will follow up.”
 The misdemeanor charge does not mean GSU police condone Durden’s actions, but that according to the law, misdemeanor status “is just a better fit (with the incident),” he said.
GSU spokesman Christian Flathman said no decision has been made at this time as to whether Durden would be disciplined by the university. Durden has been a faculty member at Georgia Southern since 1995.
“Georgia Southern currently has a policy if an employee is charged with any crime,” he said. “It states that ‘if any current employee is charged with a crime, the hiring office shall review the nature of the crime and make a determination on what, if any, action should be taken regarding the employee’s employment status until resolution of the charge.’”
Only criminal convictions may be considered when determining an employee's eligibility for continued employment, Flathman said. “Felony convictions for any crime disqualify an individual for employment at Georgia Southern in any position.”
Keel said animal cruelty would not be tolerated on campus.
“While this particular incident is very concerning, I am not aware of anything like this occurring in the past on our campus or involving an employee,” he said. “I want to assure you that we absolutely do not condone nor tolerate animal abuse or cruelty of any kind and we are taking these allegations very seriously.”
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.

Previous incident
Wynn, who oversees Humane Enforcement, said records show Durden also was involved in a Nov. 18, 2008 incident when he was walking his dog near his home. A neighbor, Vicki Beckum, also was walking her dog. Durden’s dog was leashed, but Beckum’s dog was not.
The dogs engaged in a fight and Beckum’s dog ended up seriously injured.
She said she was walking with a friend, and her elderly dog Tipper was with them. When they approached a curve, they saw a black and white bulldog on a “very long leash,” possibly 20 feet long or more, but did not yet see Durden.
The dogs sniffed, and when Beckum called for her dog to come, it took a step and “they went nose to nose,” she said. Durden’s dog “lunged for the jugular. He came running but we could not get the dog off Tipper.”
Beckum said Durden finally kicked his dog in the face several times and then walked away.
“He never said a word,” she said.
The Beckums did not press charges or seek assistance in paying the veterinarian bill, she said. Wynn said Bulloch County Humane Enforcement responded when someone else called about the issue, but no citation was issued because the incident occurred on public property and Beckum’s dog was not leashed. Due to those circumstances, “It was a civil matter,” he said.
Durden could not be reached for comment Thursday. Messages left Wednesday and Thursday requesting an interview on his home phone were not answered.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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