No Cruelty Charges for Man Who Killed Pit Bull at PetSmart Adoption Event

clara pit bull stabbed at petsmartAlthough he stabbed a Pit Bull named Clara multiple times with a pocket knife — even as his young son begged him to stop — a Georgia grand jury decided this week that Craig Emory Hayes will face no animal cruelty charges.

Clara had been brought to a PetSmart adoption event in August by volunteers from the Newnan-Coweta Humane Society (NCHS), who were hoping to find her a forever home.

Instead, due to her injuries, the volunteers had to make the heartbreaking decision to have Clara euthanized in the store’s pet hospital.

Clara had broken free from her collar and bitten the ear of Hayes’ Yorkshire Terrier after the little dog growled at her.

Screaming “F–king Pit Bulls” over and over, eyewitnesses said Hayes pulled out the knife and began plunging it into Clara’s neck, even after she released his Yorkie’s ear.

Horrified PetSmart customers told the Newnan Times-Herald what they had seen. Erin Burr said Hayes had earlier told Clara’s handler, “If you bring that f–king Pit Bull near me, I’m going to stab it.”

Teresa Reeves and her fiance, Mike Wohler, had come to the PetSmart event hoping to adopt a Pit Bull.

Reeves said Clara wasn’t viciously attacking the Yorkie, but nipping some loose skin on its neck. “Clara wasn’t clamped down on the dog,” she told the Times-Herald. Neither dog was moving.

“It could have easily been broken up,” Reeves said. Instead, Hayes started pushing and kicking Clara, “making things worse. The guy was just screaming, ‘F–king Pit Bull, why are you even allowed to have these dogs?’’’

clara pit bull stabbed at petsmartWhen he began to stab Clara, Reeves tried to protect the dog by wrapping her arms around her.

“He wasn’t stabbing like he was trying to save his dog. He was stabbing trying to kill this dog,” Reeves said.

With blood flowing from her wounds, Clara lay on the floor of PetSmart, wagging her tail as shocked customers petted her. She and the Yorkie were taken to the pet hospital inside the store.

Sandy Hiser, president of the NCHS, told the Times-Herald that Clara’s wounds were so severe “that if she did pull through, it would have impacted her quality of life.”

The Yorkie whose ear she bit was transferred to an emergency animal hospital, treated for a blood clot and released the next morning.

According to Hiser, a police officer who interviewed Hayes said he had the right to defend his dog. But was it necessary to stab Clara multiple times?

“He straight murdered this dog in front of 30, 40 people,” Wohler told the Times-Herald. “He didn’t like Pit Bulls. This just gave him the excuse he needed.”

“Facts” vs. Emotions Sway Grand Jury

Earlier this week, the Coweta County grand jury returned a “no bill” on a charge against Hayes of aggravated cruelty to an animal. This means the case is closed and no files will be charged.

According to Georgia state law, aggravated cruelty to animals occurs when someone “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.”clara pit bull stabbed at petsmart

The law does not prohibit someone from “defending his or her person or property, or the person or property of another, from injury or damage being caused by an animal.”

So, does it apply to someone who continued to violently stab a dog in the neck, even after that dog has released his dog?

Apparently not.

Pete Skandalakis, the district attorney of Coweta County, said in a press release that the grand jury had information that had not previously been disclosed to the public, the Newnan Times-Herald reported today.

This information included testimony from Newnan Police Sgt. Brent Blankenship, the case’s lead investigator. (I can’t help but wonder if he was the same police officer who had told the NCHS’ Hiser that Hayes had a right to defend his dog.)

clara_pit_bull_stabbed_at_petsmart_montageThe grand jury questioned Blankenship “regarding some inaccurate information which has been circulating in public forums,” Skandalakis said. Blankenship testified that there was no witness corroboration that Hayes had made derogatory statements about Pit Bulls before attacking Clara, and had only made them after the stabbing.

What happened to all of those eyewitnesses interviewed by the Newman Times-Herald last August — did the grand jury get to hear their testimonies as well?

The decision to not even give Hayes a slap on the wrist was also influenced by a report from the PetSmart pet hospital, which stated that Clara wasn’t only euthanized because of the extensiveness of her stab wounds — but also due to her “lack of adoptability” and “history of dog-related aggression.”

(I think it should be noted, as I wrote about back in February 2012, that PetSmart has a corporate policy of not allowing Pit Bulls and other bully breeds in its Doggie Day Camps because the company views them as “unpredictable.”)

“This was a tragic event but the grand jury got it right and declined to file charges,” Skandalakis said. “Emotions always run high in cases involving animals, and as a pet owner I understand how people feel about these types of cases, but you can’t make a decision to charge a person with a crime based upon emotions when the facts and the law say otherwise.”


Something really, really stinks in this case, and it’s not just Hayes’ attitude toward Pit Bulls and lack of anger management.

Rest in peace, Clara. The NCHS volunteer who “loved and cared for her most” wrote this beautiful tribute on the humane society’s website:

“Clara was a joyful, loving girl who people instantly fell in love with and I want her remembered that way.

I spent almost every day for the past 29 months with her and a part of me is gone forever … She was my friend, therapist and baby who I will love forever. She taught me how to enjoy the moment, appreciate a cool, shady spot on a hot summer day and gave unconditional love. She was the world’s happiest homeless dog and she will always live in my heart.

I don’t want her to have died in vain…I love you, Clara.”

Photos via Facebook

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!