At an emotional public hearing marked by harsh words and tears, West Tisbury selectmen voted 2-1 on February 1 to ban two Akitas from town. The selectmen took action after the dogs got loose on three occasions and killed a neighbor’s chickens and geese.
Selectman chairman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter dissented. He called for harsher action. Mr. Manter said selectmen should send a message that local farmers should not have to fear losing their livestock to loose dogs.
Selectmen Cynthia Mitchell and Richard Knabel agreed to have town counsel draft an agreement with dog owners Taggart Young and Anna Bolotovsky that bans the dogs from West Tisbury in perpetuity and requires the couple never to bring the dogs back to the Island.
An agreement is expected to be signed and ready for a final vote when selectmen next meet February 8.
The agreement will call for Mr. Young and Ms. Bolotovsky to compensate neighbor Richard Andre for the livestock he lost and pay all the associated fees and fines for the attacks.
West Tisbury animal control officer Joan Jenkinson supported the ban, but the decision to spare the animals was not universally supported. Assistant animal control officer Allen Healy said he thought the animals should be put down.
Mr. Manter, who has consistently taken a hard line on dogs that get loose and kill livestock, argued strenuously that the animals be euthanized. “To me, one time is too much,” he said. “Repaying the amount of damage is really a minor thing, compared to the actual emotional strain.”
Mr. Manter said many more people are trying their hand at backyard farming, as Island grown and living local initiatives become more popular.
“West Tisbury has been a strong agriculture community for a long time, and I think we should take a strong leadership role here to tell people that this board, and this town animal control officer, will not tolerate loose dogs of any type,” he said.
Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Knabel took another view.
“What’s so heartbreaking is it’s not the dog’s fault. You are responsible for the dogs,” Ms. Mitchell said, directing her comments at Mr. Young. “What happened was a function of them being out of your control, and from what I understand, once the dogs get a taste for this it doesn’t go away.”
Mr. Knabel admitted he didn’t enjoy conducting dog hearings. “There are a lot of terrific things that go with being a selectmen, but I find a proceeding like this particularly unbearable – it is the most undesirably part of this job I can think of. I have pets and I love them and I know how people feel,” he said.
But Mr. Knabel expressed frustration that the two Akita’s got loose and killed livestock three times.
“As much as you assert that you are a responsible pet owner, I don’t think you are, otherwise we wouldn’t be here . . . you told us before the dogs would be under control, and clearly they aren’t under control ,” he said.
Ms. Jenkinson said it was the most difficult dog hearing she’s had in 22 years on the job. She admitted she was on the fence whether to recommend the dogs be euthanized or banned, right up until the start of the dog hearing.
In the end, she recommended the dogs be spared and instead removed from town. She said Mr. Young and Ms. Bolotovsky planned to bring both dogs, named Zion and Sensi, to Ms. Bolotovsky’s mother’s home in Newton.
Ms. Jenkinson said she had already talked to the animal control in that town. “I don’t want them on the Island, there is too much livestock here,” she said. “The animal control officer in Newton said there is no livestock within miles of where Ms. Bolotovsky’s mother lives.”
Ms. Jenkinson said the first incident involving the dogs, Zion and Sensi, occurred on November 10, when they got loose and killed two geese owned by Mr. Andre, who lives on Old County Road.
After that incident and a dog hearing before the selectmen, the selectmen ordered Mr. Young and Ms. Bolotovsky to build a chain link enclosure for the dogs and pay $150 in restitution for the ducks. They did.
Ms. Jenkinson said the dogs got loose and killed Mr. Andre’s livestock on December 14, and again January 13. On the most recent occasion, they reportedly killed 14 chickens and attacked some geese. One of the geese escaped to Mill Pond where it has been ever since.
After this attack, Ms. Jenkinson seized one of the dogs, Zion. He is still being held at the town pound. Sensi is being kept at Ms. Bolotovsky’s mother’s home in Newton.
An attorney for the dog owners, Sean Rankin, argued the town had no right to seize Zion, but selectmen disagreed. Mr. Rankin also proposed an agreement in which his clients would post a bond and remove the dogs from town for 12 months. The selectmen rejected the proposal.
Mr. Andre said he thought the dogs were a safety risk, not only to his livestock but to his 11-year-old son as well. “He goes to West Tisbury School and on the last two instances, he came home and he was confronted by these two dogs,” he said. “They are very large dogs and an aggressive breed, and my son was impacted by it, it was a scary event . . . he got into the house and was shaken. On the first instance, I tried to get these dogs off the animals, and it was almost impossible for me, a 215 pound man. It was scary.”
He said the animals come to his house every time they get loose.
“Three times now they’ve gotten loose, and every time they come to my property. These animals are not looked after properly. That is obvious,” he said.
But Mr. Young disagreed. He said he built the enclosure after the first incident and has done everything possible to prevent his dogs from getting loose.
“We have done everything we can, aside from being with them 24 hours a day. We are responsible dog owners despite these circumstances. For whatever its worth, I can guarantee this will not happen again,” he said.
Mr. Young said the dogs have been raised with cats and have played with his four-year-old nephew their whole lives without any problems.
“These are chickens and dogs. That is part of the food chain, and I am not saying it’s allowed or okay, but it’s a dog’s nature to hunt animals. I am not saying for a second it’s okay. They are not dangerous animals,” he said.
Ms. Bolotovsky made an emotional plea to spare the dogs.
“We have three cats and kittens, and everybody lives together with no problems and I am very sorry this happened. We can make sure this won’t happen again, but these are our kids as well. I understand these are dogs, but they are our children and we are very sorry this happened,” she said.
Mr. Knabel made the motion to draft an agreement calling for the animals to be removed from town and not destroyed.
Ms. Mitchell considered the motion carefully before voting in favor.
“I am not sure I have faith that we could come to terms for an agreement and keep the dogs away from the Island forever and they wouldn’t come back one day, and then it’s whoops, they are off again and more dead animals before we even knew they were back.”
“This is impossible,” she added.