WHITMAN — In a split vote Tuesday, June 8 Selectmen dismissed a complaint against the terrier-American bully mix, with no further action required The 3-2 vote saw Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski and Selectmen Brian Bezanson voting against dismissal.
An official determination will be issued in writing within a week and announced publically at a subsequent meeting.
The vote following an often-emotional dog hearing Tuesday, June 8 during a meeting in the Town Hall Auditorium.
Town Counsel Peter Sumners said a dangerous dog is considered to be one that has attacked a domestic animal and a nuisance dog is one that has done so in the past or that creates a disturbance by excessive barking.
Selectmen decided the dog in question met neither definition.
“No quarter shall be issued,” he said, quoting the law regarding penalties for dangerous dog — it must be removed from a community, but laws cannot be breed-specific. There are specific exceptions to the definitions and potential remedies.
Muzzles or banishment are required by dangerous dog provisions, but there is room for flexibility with a nuisance designation. Sumners said he does not believe the town is liable if it happens again.
The hearing stemmed from a March 2 complaint filed by Walter Aylward and his daughter, Marie, of 650 South Ave., concerning a terrier mixed-breed dog named Loretta, owned by Casey Mahoney of 50 Perry Ave. The delay in holding a hearing was due to an attempt to resolve the issue, in cooperation with Animal Control Officer Joe Kenney, without a formal hearing, according to Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski but the Aylwards decided in April that they wished to pursue a dangerous dog hearing.
The Aylwards alleged that Loretta lunged at their dog — named Buttercup — pulling the dog walker toward their fence, where it bit Buttercup, damaging their dog’s jaw. Buttercup was in a fenced-in yard.
The only sidewalk on that stretch of South Avenue passes in front of the Aylward’s home.
Kowalski said he felt bad about the situation because, while something had obviously happened to the Aylward’s dog, it was a one-time incident.
“My inclination is not to call Loretta a dangerous dog based upon one incident,” he said, basing his reaction on Kenney’s report.
Kenney told Selectmen this was the first incident concerning Loretta and there have been no incidents since March 2.
“It was definitely an unfortunate incident, but it was a dog-on-dog thing and neither was off-leash,” he said. “In a typical situation, we would just do a quarantine and followed those steps.”
Kenney said he usually also recommends that people change walking routes to put minds at ease.
“I think a lot of this situation had to do with the person handling the dog,” he said. “If it was [the dog walker’s] own dog, it might have been a very different scenario, they might have picked up on signs from the dog differently.”
Loretta is a 45-50-pound dog, a terrier and American bully mix. Buttercup is a 15-pound Shi-Tzu.
Walter Aylward said he was out in his yard with his two dogs, who were sitting together by the fence, and he saw the dog walker “struggling” with Loretta.
“No one barked at anybody,” he said. “My dog didn’t bark, that dog didn’t bark, and the next thing you know I saw the dog fly — and the woman with it — right across the sidewalk right into the chain link fence.”
He described his dog as that it’s face was hanging off. Aylward said an emergency vet told him the dog’s injury was life-threatening.
Kenney said, in his opinion, both dogs were likely barking at each other and Buttercup stuck her muzzle through a link in the fence, giving Loretta the chance to grab her lower jaw.
“That dog is dangerous,” he said of Aylwards. “It’s tasted blood and it’ll do it again.”
Marie Aylward said they have lived in their home — with dogs in a fenced-in yard — for 37 years without incident.
Walter Aylward said he is not asking to have the dog euthanized, but wants it muzzled at all times or moved out of town.
Casey Mahoney has been a resident for 10 years and is a board member of DFS and volunteers at the Animal Protection Center of Southeastern Mass. shelter in Brockton. She adopted Loretta from the MSPCA in Haverhill in 2014.
“Loretta has only shown love toward all of us, never aggression,” Mahoney said, noting she had walked the dog herself before taking a job in Boston and needing a dog-walker during the day.
She found Crystal Power, who has a few years of experience walking all sizes of dogs, on a posting on the Whitman Pride Facebook page. She had been walking Loretta for three or four months before the incident happened.
As part of the pandemic protocols Mahoney required of the walker, the dog was to be taken across the street if another dog was encountered. She found no evidence of blood on her dog and was not aware of any injury to the Aylwards’ dog.
“I was devastated,” she said of learning about Buttercup’s injury.
“On my walks to the train station over the years, I had numerous conversations with the Aylwards and said hello to their dogs. But on many of the walks with Loretta, when their dogs have been outside — and even inside — I have avoided walking by their home because of [their dog’s] continuous barking at Loretta and I.”
When she asked Kenney for suggestions about what to do, he told her she was already doing it by continuing to avoid walking by the Aylward’s house to have a more peaceful walk. Mahoney said she visited the Aylwards, apologizing and offering to help with vet bills, but learned they had hired an attorney and the financial portion of the case is now in the hands of her insurance company.
“I’m sad about what has happened, not only because Buttercup was injured, but because a relationship was lost between myself and the Aylwards,” she said. Loretta has helped her cope with some bleak emotional times during the pandemic.
Mahoney told Selectmen, through tears, that she does not think her dog should be muzzled as she is not a dangerous dog or a nuisance.
Power said the incident, which took place on Feb. 10, had never shown any signs of aggression to her or others, and was only walking on the sidewalks because of the safety challenges posed by snow and trash barrels along the roadside.
She said that both the Aylward’s dogs barked at Loretta, but that the dogs’ behavior was more of a “meet and greet.” She felt that Buttercup was nibbling at her, but there was no way Loretta could bite back through the fence.
“No party witnessed the incident at hand 100 percent,” Power said, but there was no blood on the white dog’s face. Loretta never barked or growled, she maintained.
Selectman Dan Salvucci said, in his experience, a dog is like an extra doorbell and he found it hard to believe that neither dog barked.
“We need to make sure this never happens again,” Selectman Brian Bezanson said, advocating a muzzle when the dog is being walked.