PEMBROKE — Mary Jo Hunt loved animals, enough so that she worked with a local rescue group and even opened her home to stray dogs, taking them in to provide shelter and food.
That led to the violent death of the 53-year-old widow and mother of three on Tuesday.
Hunt’s back yard at her brick home at 17 Sharon Lane, which she shared with her sister Deborah Jacobs, was a refuge for eight mixed breed dogs that were part pit bull that the rescue group Claws and Paws had pulled from the street. Two terriers and a pug, all rescues, found comfort inside.
Investigators say that Hunt was using a rake while trying to separate a small dog from the larger dogs on Tuesday about 12:30 p.m. when she was mauled to death. Hunt’s sister was at work at the time of the attack, and a 911 call that came from a neighbor was too late. Hunt was dead when deputies pulled the dogs away from her.
Glenna Hicks, chairman of the board for Claws and Paw, said that Hunt had always kept the smaller dogs separated from the pit bulls.
“She was always a sweet lady and she obviously loved animals a lot,” Hicks said. “It’s an awful tragedy.”
Hicks said she was acquainted with the dogs.
“Those dogs had always been really nice to people, I’m shocked,” she said.
Katherine Floyd worked with Hunt at attorney Hugh Rogers’ law firm in downtown Lumberton.
“I knew she was an animal lover, and she went the extra mile to help an animal, and she was a fantastic person,” said Floyd, a former animal cruelty investigator for the county. “It’s an unfortunate loss and a freak accident. This is something terrible, and my heart goes out to that family.”
Rogers worked with the law firm off and on for about 15 years.
“She was a good-hearted person and a hardworking employee,” Rogers said. “I think it’s a terrible, tragic thing.”
On Wednesday knocks on the doors of Hunt’s home went unanswered. The only neighborhood resident who answered a door knock said he didn’t know Hunt very well, but knew she worked with Claws and Paws.
Bill Smith, director of the Health Department, said seven dogs that are at least part pit bull that attacked Hunt are being held at the Robeson County Animal Shelter. Two terriers and one pit bull that are believed to have been attacked by the other dogs are also at the shelter.
Smith said that none of the animals had been rescued from the county shelter. He said the shelter is careful not to adopt out potentially dangerous dogs, but making that assessment can be tricky. He said animals that are typically well-behaved can become aggressive in a pack.
Smith said the policy at the shelter is to euthanize any animals that cause life-threatening injuries or kills a person, but the fate of the dogs that killed Hunt has not been decided. The shelter is working with the Sheriff’s Office and will hold the animals until the investigation is completed.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, with 800,000 of them requiring medical attention.. According to an April 2009 study by Dogsbite.org, a public education website, from 2006 to 2009 there were 88 fatal dog attacks in the United States, and pit bulls were responsible for 52 of those deaths.