‘A nightmare’: Jackson County man killed in dog attack was a ‘beloved grandfather’
Jeff Burlew Tallahassee Democrat
Published 4:40 p.m. ET Dec. 2, 2020 Updated 8:36 a.m. ET Dec. 3, 2020
Donald Ray Allen Sr. had no idea when he set out on foot from a friend’s house in rural Jackson County that his life was about to come to an unbelievably tragic and horrifying end.
Gifted with his hands — he worked in construction his whole life — Allen, 65, helped someone with their roof earlier in the day, his family members said. He met up with a friend at a store and caught a ride to their house for a social visit.
But at some point in the night he decided to leave. With no car, phone or wallet with him, he walked in darkness along Kirkland Road, an isolated dirt road surrounded by farmland and woods in the small community of Bascom. He was miles from the safety of his home.
Early the morning of Nov. 18, as he made his way down the road, Allen was attacked by dogs and mauled to death. His demise sent shockwaves through the community and left his large family in mourning and searching for answers.
It happened mere weeks after the Allen family suffered another shocking tragedy. One of Allen’s children, Romeca Allen, 46, of Baton Rouge, was killed Oct. 25 in a drive-by shooting. Police in Louisiana have no suspects or motive in the case.
“This has been a nightmare,” said one of his sons, Chase Allen of Tallahassee. “I can’t even describe in words. It’s unbelievable.”
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office got a call a little before 8 a.m. that day of a man lying just off the dirt road. Investigators said the investigation and autopsy indicate he was attacked and killed by a pack of stray dogs roaming the area.
During a news conference Nov. 19, Sheriff Lou Roberts said domesticated dogs, not coyotes or other wild animals, were responsible for the attack. Multiple traps have been placed in the area, and the Houston County, Alabama, Sheriff’s Office is flying drones at night to try to find the dogs.
“We certainly hate it for this gentleman and his family,” Roberts said. “But we’re going to work diligently to try to resolve the dog (or dogs) responsible for it.”
Fatal dog attacks are rare in the United States — estimates suggest between 20 and 50 people are killed each year. When packs of dogs attack in rural areas, it typically involves a lone victim and animals on the hunt, said Richard Polsky, a Los Angeles-based expert on animal behavior and dog bites.
“I suspect the dogs probably were hungry and treated the victim as a prey object and took advantage of this man who couldn’t fight back and was mauled to death,” Polsky said.
‘Not sure how to explain it’
Allen, known as “Ducky” to friends and family, divided his time between Bascom, a sparsely populated part of northeast Jackson County where cotton fields stretch across the landscape, and his hometown of Denham Springs, La., a small town outside Baton Rouge.
“He was quite the character — very funny, had a great sense of humor,” Chase Allen said. “He’s a big talker. He could talk to anyone for hours about anything on his mind. He was very good about expressing it.”
More than anything, he cherished his family. He had seven children, two of whom preceded him in death, 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“He loved his children with all his heart,” he said. “He would have done anything for them to protect them and to help us if we were ever in need. He was a beloved grandfather. His grandchildren were crazy about him — all of them.”
In Bascom, he resided next door to another son, Donald Ray Allen Jr., his wife Fianna Ballay and their two young daughters, who called him Pop Pop. He was kind-hearted and always willing to help.
“I’m going to miss him,” Donald Allen Jr. said. “That’s one of my best friends right there. I know he wants us to keep a smile on our face and keep on moving on and just take care of ourselves. It’s going to be a little rough.”
Ballay heard about the dog attack on the radio but didn’t know her father-in-law was the victim until a deputy called to tell her. Younger family members, including her daughters, 2 and 4, haven’t been told what happened.
“We haven’t had to explain it to them yet,” she said. “I know I’m not sure how to explain it. So we’re just going to have to kind of come up together and try to explain it to them where they understand.”
The family is planning to bury Allen in his hometown. They launched a GoFundMe at https://bit.ly/3qo5O7O to help cover the unexpected funeral costs.
“We are overwhelmed by the support shown so far,” Ballay posted, “and can’t thank you all enough for helping our family during this time.”
‘An extremely dangerous situation’
The family is still trying to piece together his last hours. They know he arrived at a friend’s house around 10 p.m. the night before he was killed, knocked on the door and asked for a ride, Chase Allen said. But he was told they couldn’t do it, perhaps because there was no car available.
“So my dad decided to walk,” he said. “And they offered to give him a jacket because he was cold.”
Allen was attacked across from a residence with fenced in cattle and other farm animals. Allen family members have heard stories about aggressive dogs chasing cars down the road, but they don’t know whether those animals are responsible.
Donald Allen Jr., who lives six or seven miles from where his dad was killed, said aggressive dogs haven’t been a problem in his neighborhood. But he believes there’s a pack off in the distance somewhere, perhaps a byproduct of Hurricane Michael.
“There have been dogs back there because I can stand outside and hear them in the middle of the night,” he said. “What kind of dogs, I don’t know. But my guess is that when the hurricane came through, some dogs got loose and they probably … started breeding a whole bunch of mutts back there.”
Polsky, who has a doctorate in animal behavior, said some fatal dog attacks involve animals that prowl together at night but go back to their homes during the day. Others involve dogs that were abandoned and became feral in the wild.
“Dog packs running loose and unsupervised in rural areas is very common,” he said. “And when you get a single individual who encounters these dogs by happenstance, it’s an extremely dangerous situation.”
Investigators sent evidence to experts at the University of Florida for DNA analysis in hopes of identifying the breed that mauled Allen. Trail cameras placed near Kirkland and Concord roads caught images of dogs matching the description of those seen in the area before the attack.
‘It could have been prevented’
Roberts, during the news conference, urged residents to report any aggressive dogs to law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office did not return phone calls or emails about the case.
“We’ve already seen the death of one individual,” he said. “We certainly would like people to be cautious but let them know that we’re taking it very seriously here.”
The Allen family hopes the investigation will reveal whether the dogs belonged to someone or there were any warning signs or reports to officials that might have gone ignored.
“We really just want these dogs to be put down,” Chase Allen said. “We want them to not be a harm to society anymore or a risk to anyone else. Because our dad is gone — we’ll never get him back. But it could have been prevented … and I believe it still could be prevented from happening again.”