DNA samples from local dogs tested in Pantego attack

Published 8:01 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

PANTEGO — The search for the animal or animals responsible for a deadly attack in Pantego continues this week, with 13 DNA swabs from local canines now being tested at a university forensics laboratory.

Deputies with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office collected the samples from domestic dogs in the vicinity of Indian Run Road earlier this week with the cooperation of area residents as part of an investigation to determine what inflicted fatal injuries on 77-year-old Pantego resident Brenda Hamilton last Friday.

“Some (samples) came from the day of the attack and some came from the following Monday,” BCSO Lt. Jim Vanlandingham said.

As to the method for collecting DNA, Vandlandingham said deputies did so in the same way they would from a human subject — a saliva sample collected via a cotton swab of the mouth.

While initial testing indicated that DNA found on Hamilton’s clothing was canine in nature, additional testing would be required to rule out the possibility that a wild canine could be responsible for the attack.

The Albemarle Peninsula, the five-county area of Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties, is home to both coyotes and the last remaining wild red wolf population in the world. While the former are prolific, the red wolf population is dwindling, estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be less than 40 in the five-county area. The two species have been known to cross-breed, with red-wolf DNA showing up in coyote hybrids.

From a behavioral standpoint, information from the USFWS indicates that both animals are territorial towards other canines, but are generally elusive, avoiding contact with humans. For both species, February is mating season. To blame the attack on either creature, however, would be premature.

“Our hopes are we will have some sort of test results by the end of the week,” Vanlandingham said. “Right now, we’re kind of in a holding pattern unless somebody calls us with more information. We’re waiting for test results and will react to those when they come in.”

Among residents in the area, Vanlandingham said there is a sense of concern. As deputies canvassed the neighborhood to collect DNA samples, he said dog owners in the area have been generally cooperative through the process.

“I think anybody who lives in the area has concerns, especially anybody who has domestic pets or children,” Vanlandingham said. “In this case, it being an adult that was attacked, I think anybody who lives down there has concern. I don’t get a sense of panic, but I guess you would call it controlled concern.”

For residents of rural Beaufort County, living alongside wildlife is nothing new. An attack of this magnitude, however, is. The BCSO encourages area residents to take steps to ensure the safety of themselves, their children and their pets.

Hamilton, who died from her injuries Monday at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, will be remembered today during a visitation and memorial service at Pungo Christian Academy, where she taught for 51 years. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to PCA in her memory. Cards and donations for the family may be sent to Pungo Christian Academy, 983 W. Main St., Belhaven, NC 27810.