Kate Brumback/AP Photo
Dogs captured by animal control for fatal attacks on a Georgia couple. They were later euthanized at the Madison Oglethorpe Animal Shelter on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009.
Dogs captured by animal control for fatal attacks on a Georgia couple. They were later euthanized at the Madison Oglethorpe Animal Shelter on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009. Kate Brumback/AP Photo
One of the most tragic and strangest stories of recent days was the killing of a wife and husband in Georgia last Friday blamed by authorities on a pack of wild dogs. The dogs, 16 in all, were rounded up and, yesterday, euthanized.
Sherry L. Allen Schweder, 65, had gone for a walk along a dirt road when she was evidently set upon and mauled by the dogs, none of which was over 35 pounds. Later, her husband Lothar Karl Schweder, 77, formerly a University of Georgia German professor, went looking for her and, when he saw her body and exited his car, was himself attacked and mauled to death by the animals. It was like something from Hitchcock, only it actually happened.
According to a story on the Athens Banner-Herald's, the authorities have no idea why the dogs, which weren't known as dangerous, attacked the couple.
Neighbors and the coroner said the dogs, who stayed at an unoccupied house on the end of the dead-end lane, roamed the area but didn't seem aggressive.
"It's hard to say what triggered the attack because the dogs haven't been aggressive to anyone else," Mathews said. "No one knows exactly what happened.
"The ones who know can't tell us."
Now the authorities are trying to decide whether they should charge the man who fed the animals every other day and who once occupied the property where the dogs lived.
Investigators plan to meet later this week with District Attorney Bob Lavender to discuss if the dogs' caregiver will be charged, said Jim Fullington, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Athens office.
The owner had lived in the Thaxton Road home until recently, but returned every other day to feed the dogs.
"Nobody's been charged at this time," Fullington said. "We're still finishing the investigation, and the subject has been very cooperative.
"We've worked dog-attack cases in the past, but they've been more one-on-one situations," he said. "But we've never had anything like this in my career."
CNN interviewed an expert on small animal behavior who theorizes that one dog likely triggered the attack and that a pack mentality took over after that:
Humans can appear threatening to dogs that run in packs, said Bonnie Beaver, a professor in the department of small animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M University and an expert in pack behavior.
"From their perspective, a person is an alien, if you will," Beaver said. "It would be the same as we would relate to a grizzly bear."
Dogs kill an average of 10 to 20 people each year in the United States, Beaver said. The vast majority of those cases involve a single dog attacking a small child, she said.
As few as two or three dogs, whether urban, suburban or rural, can behave like a pack, Beaver said. And when pack mentality takes over, "they do insane things that they would not do" under normal circumstances, she said.
"My bet is there was one ringleader who kind of started it" in the Georgia case, Beaver said.