The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

June 21, 2013

Nightmare only partially over for dog owner


TARBORO — Warrants drawn up against the alleged dog trainer who scammed money from Whitney Walker and her fiancee, Sterling Jones, have allowed the couple to get over half of their nightmare. The other half, their three missing pit bulls, continues to haunt them.

"Thank God that we finally got a real name," Walker said. "He had so many different names that I thought we would never find out who he was. "But we still don't have our babies. We're not going to stop looking until we find them."

The Edgecombe County Sheriff's Department has warrants against James Randal Whitten, 46, last known address, 4147 N.C. Highway 97 East, for two counts of obtaining property by false pretense and two counts of larceny of a dog. As of Thursday, Whitten continued to be an absconder from the law. He is also wanted in two other states for the same crimes.

Walker, of South Carolina, and two other sets of out-of-town dog owners became victims at the suspect's Edgecombe County address. The victims found the bogus business through the website "k-9 paws."

Walker said after talking to the suspect on the phone and in person, she believed that he was capable of training her dogs. They were also attracted to the $2,500 fee. She said other trainer's fees were considerably higher.

When the couple arrived at the Whitten's home, the condition of the suspect's single-wide trailer was substandard, Walker said, "but I didn't judge him for where he was living. I wish that I would have judged him on the way that my dogs responded to him. They must have known that he was evil."

Walker said she paid Whitten $2,500 to train her dogs. After a few days passed, she lost all communication with the suspect. When she drove back to Whitten's home to check on her dogs, the suspect — along with her canines — were gone.

Devastated and angry, she immediately began searching for her dogs. It's now been 13 days since she last saw them. Walker has hired a private investigator to assist her with the search. She said they have followed up on some leads, however those have proven to be unfruitful.

"They are our kids," Walker said. "We see them more than we see our family who are in Oregon and California. All we wanted was for him to train them.

"We're not going to stop until we find them. I have nothing else to do. This is my job now."

Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said as of Wednesday, only the three sets of dog owners have reported the scam to his investigators. He said he didn't know exactly how long Whitten had lived at the Edgecombe County address.

Whitten sister, Sandra Lee Bryan, 45, who lived at the residence, was charged with obstructing justice by giving false information to the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Department.

Anyone who may have information about the whereabouts of Whitten and the dogs are encouraged to call the Edgecombe County Sheriff's Department at (252) -641-7911.