EASLEY—Local residents took to the public forum at Easley’s City Council meeting Monday night to address a controversial topic concerning Councilman Dave Watson and a four-pound Chihuahua.
Watson has been catching fire from residents over the past couple of weeks after refusing to return the dog to its original owners.
“I’ve gotten lots of emails and received lots of phone calls wondering why the City of Easley has not stepped up and done something about this situation,” said Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell. “We have tried to do something. We’ve gone through the ethics committee in Columbia, and they’ve told us, as a City, we cannot do anything.”
Watson found the dog back in May of this year, taking it into his home as if it were a stray. After Kerri and Keith Blanton, the dog’s previous owners, learned of the animal’s whereabouts, they asked for it back. Watson says he refused to return the Chihuahua for fear of its safety with the Blanton’s.
The two parties plan to settle the matter in civil court at the end of October.
“It’s up to a judge now,” said Watson. “My only concern is Gracie (the dog). I concerned about the safety of the dog, and I hope the right decision will be made.”
Monday, other members of council gave their thoughts on the matter.
“Initially (the rest of city council) wasn’t involved, but we are now,” said Councilman Brian Garrison. “In my opinion, this has gone on way too long. It’s been an embarrassment, and my opinion is that the dog needs to be given back.”
Others agreed the dog, referred to by the Blanton’s as “Lucy,” should go back to its original owners.
“I’m not exactly the most dog-friendly person around,” said Councilman Chris Mann. “I have been following this quite a bit, and have received emails and phone calls from friends as far away as Finland. The very first time I was asked what I would I said, ‘If it were me, I would give the dog back.’”
Bagwell says he would have done the same.
“The community knows how I feel,” said Bagwell. “It would be hard for me (to not give it back) knowing that the dog doesn’t belong to me and the children over there know that it’s their dog.”
Watson says he has maintained his position for the safety of the animal.
“It is not always easy to take a position, even if you’re right, when lies and mistruths are being spread about you,” said Watson’s statement. “You know, if you tell a lie enough times, people will believe it. Ask any one in public life.”
As Watson sat in his seat looking at each speaker, all of them conveyed a similar message.
“Give the dog back.”
“This room, including (Watson’s) own colleagues, are here to say, ‘give this dog back to this family,’” said Tracy Addington. “That dog belongs with the Blanton’s. There’s not an issue of safety, abuse, or anything else. These people are ashamed to say that they are from Easley because of (Watson).”
Other residents questioned the legality of Watson’s actions.
“If a severe thunderstorm blows my neighbors patio set into my yard, would they have to take me to court to get it back?” said Allison Underwood. “If Mr. Watson is really concerned about Lucy’s welfare with the Blanton’s, he should return her as the law states, and then contact animal control to follow up. If the dog is in danger it’s not his decision to make.”
Watson says he has been told that he cannot win in this situation.
“The Mayor and others have told me no matter what happens I cannot win,” Watson’s statement said. “I am not worried about me winning, I am only worried about Gracie winning.”
With seemingly negative publicity surrounding him, Watson says his political career takes a back seat to this issue.
“My political career comes (second) when it concerns the safety and well-being of Gracie,” Watson’s statement read. “I did not take this stance because I knew it would be easy for me or I was worried about a political career. I took it to protect Gracie.”
Bagwell says he believes the City of Easley has had a rough couple of weeks, but will bounce back.
“Mr. Watson is elected just like all of us,” said Bagwell. “Our name gets linked in with some of these situations that we have no control over. It’s not been a good two to three weeks for the City of Easley and Pickens County, but we have the kind of citizens that we can get through this and get over it.”
A court date concerning the matter is set for Oct. 23 at 11:00 a.m.