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Jailing of Littleton Man Shows that Impounding Noisy Dogs is a Better Way to Go

Barking Dogs Land North Carolina Resident In Prison

The News and Observer - Raleigh, North Carolina - December 13, 1997 - Written by Joseph Neff

The News and Observer reports how Central Prison in Littleton North Carolina has housed its share of notorious criminals over the years-killers, rapists, robbers and such. But the Big House has seldom locked up the likes of James Melvin. Melvin, who is 69, deaf, legally blind and diabetic, walked out of Central Prison a free man Friday after pulling time for violating Section 13 of the Animal Control Ordinance of the Town of Littleton. His dogs were barking too much.

"I'm not a criminal," Melvin said through a sign-language interpreter, moments after a tearful reunion with his wife outside the prison, where he finished his jail sentence because Central has facilities to treat his health problems. "They fingerprinted me and everything, just for having dogs." Melvin's dogs - more than a dozen of them - have embroiled him in a long-running dispute with some of his neighbors. They say the dogs make a constant racket that spoils the peace in their otherwise quiet town of 650, the article reports.

The five-year saga has been hard on all sides, according to Littleton's town attorney, Gilbert Chichester, whose law office is on the block where the Melvins live. At the heart of it is a failure to communicate. "Mr. Melvin had a tendency to be volatile, and it created a situation where people stayed away from him and put up with him as long as they could," Chichester said in the article. "If Mr. Melvin hadn't had the speech and hearing impairment, I don't think it would've gotten this far."

According to the report, Melvin and his wife, Marlene, moved into their large frame house in 1989. He's retired after working for the Safeway supermarket chain for 30 years. She works with hearing-impaired people in Henderson. With her parents in Illinois and his closest relative in Maryland, the couple says the dogs are like family. "A lot of people don't understand hearing-impaired people," Marlene said. "We're pretty isolated. Our dogs are like our children."

It's a big family: 14 dogs, most of them formerly abandoned or abused, the article goes on. They include Bobby, a terrier mutt rescued from a Dumpster. Part of his rear end and tail had been chewed off in a dogfight, Marlene said. And Bubba, a shaggy white female that was roaming Littleton until the day she tore a hole in the Melvins' screen door and moved in. There's Tripod, a black Lab found tied outside the Roanoke Animal Hospital, busily chewing off a gangrenous leg. James' favorite is Betsy, a white collie that began following him one day, "like a little white lamb, like Mary and the little lamb."

According to the article, Dr. Thomas Grenell, a veterinarian from Emporia, Va., has cared for the Melvins' dogs in his clinic and at their home. The dogs are well cared for, Grenell said. But because of the Melvins' hearing impairments, "I don't think they realize how loud the dogs are sometimes."

The report describes how the original charges were filed in 1993 by a next-door neighbor, Alton Parker. "Well, they've had over 20-some dogs," Parker said. "When you have that amount of dogs, you know they are going to bark, and some dogs bark louder than others." The case took years to wend its way through the system and was repeatedly continued for lack of a sign-language interpreter. Parker and Melvin have filed other charges against each other assault, communicating threats which have been dismissed.

The barking case finally went to trial in March, the report elaborates. Parker and other neighbors testified about the noise. Other neighbors, including one next door and another across the street, said the dogs caused no problems. A jury found Melvin guilty. Superior Court Judge Robert Burroughs told Melvin to get rid of all but five dogs, Parker said. "He refused to," Parker said. "There was no talking with him."

The report goes on to say that Burroughs sentenced Melvin to 30 days in jail and fined him $ 500. Melvin refused to give up his dogs. He began an appeal of the verdict, but that was dismissed on procedural grounds in November. At that point, he reported to the Halifax County jail. Because of his health problems, county authorities transferred Melvin to Central Prison, which has a hospital.

The article describes how after picking up her husband at Central Prison on Friday, Marlene Melvin said she hopes their problems are over. They've fenced their lot. The dogs go out in shifts for exercise, and spend much of the day inside. Melvin said he was looking forward to being reunited with his dogs. His neighbor, Alton Parker, said he'd like to find a way of keeping peace in the neighborhood. "They are doing a fine thing, but they should be out on a farm somewhere, not in town."

This page is part of the News of the Usual Legal Run-around,
which is a component of the Barking Dog News and