OPELOUSAS, La. (KLFY) – Jonathan Zenon, who was attacked by five loose pit bulls, did not receive the outcome he hoped for in court.
Zenon was attacked on Aug. 31 in Sunset off of Dynasty Lane, and he told News 10 he and the dog owner, Elton James Shelvin, appeared in court Monday in Opelousas for a civil hearing, before Judge Gerard Caswell.
“I don’t think that the court handled it correctly. For a judge to release five killers on the streets. I do not understand what’s happening,” said Zenon. “I’m scarred for life. I got scars on me for life.”
In the hearing, Judge Caswell ruled that dogs were ‘dangerous animals’ instead of ‘vicious animals.’ The reason is that a dog is deemed dangerous; in this case, it was an unprovoked attack.
It’s a first-time incident, and there is no prior history of the dogs attacking someone else, including Zenon, in the past. Therefore, the law requires that if a dog is deemed a dangerous animal, it must be restrained within a home, restrained within, or confined within a fenced area.
Judge Caswell ordered that the underlayment fence is concrete so the animals couldn’t escape by digging their way out. In addition, the dog owner has to post signs saying dangerous animals are present.
“Well, the thing about it is when the guy goes get his dogs back, he might not bring them home,” Zenon said. “He might put them in Lafayette somewhere where people know nothing about this, and the dogs get loose and do the same thing they’ve done to me.”
He also worries about the safety of children in the neighborhood.
“It’s one thing about pit bulls, anybody that knows anything about their type of dog, that’s their DNA. What they did, they can’t take that out of them; they might as well put them down because they will do it again,” Zenon said.
Alisa Gothreaux, the Chief Felony Prosecutor in St. Landry Parish, explained that if the dogs were deemed vicious animals, the actions of putting a dog down come into play.
“We’re not at that point right now,” she said. “You’re going to be looking at it to the extreme of having to put the animal down. You’re looking for a prior attack. A prior designation as a dangerous animal or a particularly egregious exception on circumstances, perhaps, or there’s loss of life or something like that as an initial event.”
She said the first classification would hopefully secure the safety of the community and the animals by putting all the stiff requirements in place to control and maintain those animals safely.
News 10 asked what evidence was provided in court. Gothreaux said there was no group of witnesses. The evidence used was the victim’s statement and his visible bite marks. She said if there were statements from witnesses, then they would have been subpoenaed for the 21st hearing.
“The dogs were trying to eat this man alive, and you want to rule that the dogs are not vicious. I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could say that. It just it’s unreal,” said Nicalas Boudreaux.
Boudreaux has been a resident of Dynasty Lane since 2016. He said there had been a history of Shelvin’s dog being violent toward people. He recalls an incident six months ago when Shelvin’s dog attempted to attack him.
He said he was weed-eating in the neighborhood, and four or five dogs were loose and grabbed him on his pant leg. He said he used his weedeater to get the dog off of him. Boudreaux said he told Shelvin about it but never reported it to authorities.
Boudreaux added that other residents had problems with the dogs being loose and afraid to walk down the road.
Gothreaux expressed how vital community input is and how residents who have experienced being threatened by a dog need to report it.
“You want to make sure that authorities are aware of animals that threaten your safety so that if something like this happens, the worst happens, someone gets harmed. Then we have a history to bring before the court and give them the full picture because that’s what we’re after,” said Gothreaux.
She said there is a criminal investigation where officers will go out and do a full investigation and look for witnesses to develop the case further. Once the complete investigator file is turned over from law enforcement to the district attorney’s office, they review all the evidence and evaluate the final criminal charges.
“Which may or may not be exact, or match the arresting charge, or sometimes it’s greater, sometimes it’s less than,” Gothreaux said.
Terri Courville, the Director of Animal Control, said Shelvin would need to provide proof of rabies vaccination, pay his fees at Animal Control and abide by the keeping of dangerous dogs procedures. Courville said Shelvin is aware of the information.
“I respect the judge’s decision, and if all of the provisions are abided by, we should have no future problems with these dogs,” Courville said.
The dogs are in Animal Control’s custody for now.