When Wayne and Brenda Baughman looked across their pasture and saw three of their animals lying on the ground, they immediately knew something was wrong. But nothing prepared them for the grisly scene waiting in their backyard.
The Baughmans' two ponies, Princess and Patches, and goat, Lucy, had been mauled to death. Their cat, Odie, has also been missing since the attack last month.
Brenda Baughman said they were "devastated."
"(There was) blood everywhere," Baughman said in an email to the Aiken Standard. "We were shocked at seeing the animals slaughtered (and) couldn't imagine the suffering, them fighting for their lives for how long, and losing."
Christy Lynn, the couple's daughter, said the animals were "like family" and described the attack as a "bloody mauling."
Now, three weeks after the attack, they are upset for a different reason. According to Lynn, the family was informed no DNA evidence would be tested from the animals they believed were responsible because the tests were "too expensive," and there is a chance the animals – three pit bull mixes – will be returned to their owner.
"I do not want the dogs returned," said Baughman. "...If (the) dogs are guilty, I want every fine possible brought against the owners."
The Baughmans noticed the three dogs on their property when they discovered the attack. They took photographs of the dogs, whose fur was matted with blood.
"Because nobody witnessed the attack, and we can't charge with the killing because it (the blood) could have showed up after the attack," said Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian, who oversees county departments, including Animal Control.
Director of Code Enforcement Paige Bayne, who also oversees Animal Control, did not respond directly to request for comment.
"...We can't just charge based off an assumption," Killian said. "That won't hold up in court."
However, the county does not allow free-roaming dogs in neighborhoods. Killian said the penalty for the dogs being loose would be decided at a court hearing March 11.
The Baughmans and Lynn are convinced the dogs are responsible for the deaths of their animals. Their neighbors on Vintage Vale Road have made complaints about the dogs before.
One of those complainants was Ruth Seigler, who called Animal Control a few weeks before the incident at the Baughmans.
"I heard a ruckus on my front porch one morning," Seigler said. "My cat was outside. When I opened the door there were three pit bulls on my porch. They had my cat in the corner and were trying to get at her."
Seigler described the dogs as tan and white, black and white, and brindle – the same three dogs with blood-stained fur that were at the Baughmans the day of the attack.
"I sprang at them to get them to leave her alone," Seigler said. "When they put their attention on me, she ran inside down the hallway. But then they started growling and barking at me."
Seigler said Animal Control put a trap outside but only caught one of the dogs who they claimed was "very friendly" and later returned to the owner, Geana Hill, who lives in the same neighborhood.
Seigler said she was upset and angry Animal Control didn't reset the trap to capture the remaining two dogs.
"I just want people to be aware that there are things like that happening, and Animal Control is not taking care of it like they should," Seigler said. "They should have reset the trap and left it until they caught the other two dogs ... They didn't even bother to get them."
Lynn said her 14-year-old niece is afraid to jog past the dog's home because they were aggressive toward her.
Karen Jones, who owns 10 horses and ponies close to the Baughmans, expressed concerns about her animals being attacked. She treated horses attacked by pit bulls in her home state of Maryland and believes the Baughmans' animals went through the same thing.
"It escalates and escalates," Jones said. "There should be no second chances."
The Baughmans said they were only able to reach Aiken County Animal Control by calling the police. The Animal Control officer who responded then told the Baughmans that DNA evidence would need to be collected from their animals to prove the dogs were responsible for the killings. He told them to collect it from their dead pets.
"The burden was put on us to take the DNA," Brenda Baughman said. "It should have been done by the A.C. officer, not me."
Lynn said her family was "relieved" after dropping off the DNA because they thought they could put the incident behind them.
The family claims Bayne contacted them and told them no DNA evidence would be tested on account of the cost.
"We were hanging on that (DNA) so we wouldn't have to prove it ourselves," Lynn said. "Now we have to go to court to deal with this and the burden was put on us."
Killian said the Animal Control officer was likely trying to be helpful, but DNA testing for animal attacks cannot be done in Aiken County. The total cost would have been around $1,300, and it would have had to be done out of state.
Geana Hill, the dog's owner, has firmly denied the accusations, saying coyotes must have killed the animals and her dogs may have eaten them afterwards. She claims her dogs, who she has raised from puppies, are not aggressive and are well-taken care of.
"I know my dogs didn't do it," Hill said in a message to the Aiken Standard. "I know coyotes are the murderers ...They (my dogs) are innocent. They aren't a pack of vicious dogs that run the neighborhood. They are our family."
Lynn and her mother do not believe coyotes are to blame. Baughman said if animal control had "handled the dogs" when other people complained about their behavior, her animals would not have died.
Editor's note: The Baughmans and Lynn have shared photographs of the attack with the Aiken Standard. The Aiken Standard did not use the photos in this article due to the graphic and disturbing nature of the content.