Lisa Gilreath walks through the field where her horse, covered by tarp in background, was attacked and mortally wounded by two pit bulls on Monday night. Erica Yoon photo.
CLICK HERE for video report of Lisa Gilreath describing the dogs' attack on her horse.
MOUNT CARMEL — Nothing can bring back James and Lisa Gilreath’s much loved mare “Scarlette,” but the Kingsport couple hope that by telling the story of Scarlette’s terrible death they’ll help spread awareness about the dangers of allowing pit bulls to run at large.
James’ father J.D. Gilreath, who lives near the farm where Scarlette was kept, received a call Monday night that Scarlette was being attacked by two pit bulls. The Gilreaths kept Scarlette and another horse on a small farm in unincorporated Hawkins County on Tranbarger Road just east of Mount Carmel and just north of Kingsport.
The pit bulls belonged to a neighbor, and although they were usually fenced in, they had gotten out in the past.
The Gilreaths’ second horse was in its stall with the door shut, but Scarlette’s stall door was open Monday allowing her access to a small lot.
“My father-in-law went there with his gun, and by the time he got there Scarlette was already down,” Lisa Gilreath told the Times-News on Tuesday. “When he approached to get the dogs off, one of the dogs turned on him, so he got back in his truck and went to a neighbor across the street and called the sheriff’s office. They were ripping her to shreds.”
Deputy Richard Chandler arrived on the scene around 10 p.m. and made contact with the owners of the dogs who reside on property adjacent to the Gilreaths’ farm. The owners reportedly gave Chandler permission to shoot both pit bulls.
It was then determined that Scarlette was mortally wounded. James Gilreath was called and gave permission for Chandler to put Scarlette down.
“We had been concerned about those dogs before because they’ve gotten loose and there are a lot of children around there,” Lisa Gilreath said. “It could have been a child or my father-in-law or my husband going to feed the horses.”
Lisa Gilreath said the dogs had gotten out on multiple occasions in the past and she’d spoken to the dog owners about preventing their dogs from getting loose.
There was a hint that this might happen earlier this year when one of the pit bulls got loose and attacked the horse, but Scarlette was able to fight off one dog by cornering it in the stall. She couldn’t hold off two dogs, though.
“It’s a horrible way for an animal to die,” Lisa Gilreath said. “She had no place to run, and even if she went into her stall the door was open so they could come in after her. She fought valiantly but it (the place where Scarlette fell) looks awful — like a crime scene.”
The Gilreaths had Scarlette for three years. They named her Scarlette because she had a scar on her nose. Lisa Gilreath described her as a sweet, gentle horse and a good riding horse who was basically James’ pet.
Scarlette was valued at $3,500. Chandler stated in his report that the horse had suffered severe lacerations to its face and belly as a result of the pit bull attack.
The dog owners, John C. Smith and Ray Ward, were cited into Hawkins County Sessions Court for allowing dogs to run at large.
“I’m not out to get anyone’s name in the paper or lay blame,” Gilreath said. “I want to raise awareness of the dangers of dogs like this. Thanksgiving Day we went to feed the horses and my children were leaning over the fence petting these dogs, and they didn’t have the appearance of being the vicious killers they are bred to be.
“Those dogs did exactly what they’re bred to do, and that’s the scary thing about pit bulls. It tragic and we’re upset at the loss of our horse, but at the same time we’re thankful that it wasn’t a human because it could just as easily could have been one of us or one of the children.”