HANSON – Jet will have to come in for a landing.
The Select Board on Tuesday, Jan. 24 conducted a nuisance or dangerous dog hearing on a following complaint by Charles Williams of 115 Leon Court against a dog named Jet owned by David Leighton of 73 Leon Court. Jet has allegedly been out of its yard on two occasions – Jan. 9 and 11.
Town Administrator Lisa Green said she had received two videos purporting to be of the same dog being out of its yard.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald Kemmett said Leighton’s other dog Scout, had been the subject of a previous dog hearing, stressing this complaint was on a different animal named Jet.
“We have not had a discussion or met about this particular dog,” she said. Leighton was asked to work with the animal control officer on ways to control Jet, including walking the animal on a leash while the other dog is on a tether, and he will shore up his fence.
“I mean this in the nicest way possible,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We don’t want to see you again. We want harmony to reign on Leon Court and you can do your part.”
Leighton said he has been having a problem getting his mail, or he would have acknowledged receiving a first notice about the situation.
Green emphasized that the town has received no information about the dog in this case being threatening or dangerous.
One video shows Williams following the dog to record the situation when it barked at him, but Green said that, under state law, a dog cannot be considered a nuisance just because it is barking or growling, reacting to another animal or a person in a manner “grossly out of proportion” to the circumstances. A dog’s breed cannot be used as a reason to declare it a danger or nuisance.
The board is empowered to determine whether the dog is a danger or a nuisance. There has been no evidence or complaint that the dog is dangerous.
Watching the videos, Select Board members said they did not perceive the dog behaving in an aggressive manner.
Animal Control Officer Joseph Kenney said the dog has not been aggressive or threatening to him, nor has he received reports of it behaving in such a manner to anyone else.
“I get both sides,” he said, noting how he could see someone nervous around dogs being fearful.
Kenney said there had been construction going on at the Leighton property on Jan. 9, which could explain the dog getting out.
“I’m going to blame my kids on this one,” Leighton said adding that when he puts Scout outside on a tether, as he had been directed to do at a previous hearing, bringing Jet with him and taking them both in the house at once. He said he will discuss the seriousness of the situation with his kids, who are in their 20s.
“The kids don’t do that,” he said, so the dog wanders around to the front door, and that may be why Jet ended up in the William’s yard.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said William may be concerned about the safety and fears of his children.
“I’m going to bring him out,” Leighton said about controlling his dog. “I told the kids, ‘Don’t even bother bringing the dogs out, I’ll take care of it.’ This is the last thing in the world I need or want.”
He suggested the complaint was personal.
“I think it’s vindictive and it’s petty,” he said.
“To me, it seems like a powder keg ready to go off,” FitzGerald said, asking Kenney for his recommendation.
He recommended requiring Leighton use a lead to walk the dogs and a six-foot tall fence to keep the dogs in the yard as well as tethering.
Leighton said he doesn’t have the room to put both dogs on a tether, but will continue walking Jet on a lead while Scout is tethered.
“It’ll never happen,” Leighton said, noting he only has one tree. He later apologized for stating it that way when some Select Board members said the phrase could be taken as dismissive.
Select Board Vice Chair Joe Weeks asked how the board could ensure that the dogs are not the subject of complaints, requiring them to call Leighton or his adult children before the board again.
Kenney said the only way anything could come of the case outside regular leash laws would be to deem the animal dangerous or a nuicance, at which time different standards kick in.
“We could be gerbils on this wheel forever,” FitzGerald Kemmett. Member Ann Rein said she didn’t mind holding more hearing if they became necessary so long as the dogs and people involved are safe.
“But, us as gerbils, each time it happens, we’re not spending so much time on it, because we know,” Select Board member Jim Hickey said. “It’s your dog, you’re responsible for it. …Don’t blame your kids.”
Weeks said he was concerned with containing the issue before the board, recognizing the stress on both sides of the situation.