West Tisbury selectmen snatch Akitas from jaws of death

— File photo by Mae Deary

West Tisbury selectmen agreed Wednesday, February 15, to further postpone concluding a euthanization order for two Akitas that last week they ordered destroyed for repeatedly killing a neighbor’s chickens and geese.

Selectmen did not vote on what is effectively a stay of execution, issued February 8 for the two dogs. Instead the selectmen instructed an attorney for the two dogs’ owners – Taggart Young and Anna Bolotovsky – to draft an agreement calling for the dogs to be given to a qualified new owner.

One of the dogs, Zion, is now at Animal Health Care, a veterinary hospital that serves as the town pound. The other, Sensi, is in Newton with Ms. Bolotvsky’s mother.

Selectmen rejected a proposal from attorney Jonathon Rankin of Framingham that called for the dogs to be given to either Mr. Bolotovsky’s sister or mother who live off Island.

They instead agreed to delay signing the euthanization order one week, giving the two owners and their attorney time to draft a new agreement that requires Mr. Young and Ms. Bolotovsky to relinquish ownership of the two dogs.

Selectmen said it is up to the current owners and their attorneys to work out the specifics of the agreement – but strongly suggested both dogs would need to be surrendered to the town, which would then transfer them to an Akita rescue group or a new owner approved by an Akita rescue group.

“I think there is potential for a third party, such as an Akita rescue group if they are willing – and if you are willing to arrange it, if you care enough about your dogs – to fashion some type of agreement of the town turning over the dogs to this third party,” selectman Cynthia Mitchell said.

Ms. Mitchell suggested the agreement would need to provide for compensation for Richard Andre, owner of the livestock killed, as well as arrange for payment all associated fines and fees. Ms. Mitchell said she would not support any agreement calling for the dogs to be placed in the care of Mr. Young or Ms. Bolotovsky.

Ms. Mitchell said selectmen should not get involved in choosing where the dogs are placed.

“The town is not in the business of matching bad dogs, or good dogs that behave badly with irresponsible owners, to good homes. Our involvement is very narrow, and it’s to protect the livestock in this town, everything else is outside our realm. Even though it pulls on your heartstrings,” she said.

Mr. Rankin made the case the dogs be spared. “The fact that we are spending so much time on this matter is a statement as to how important this is to [Mr. Young and Ms. Bolotovsky]. We would argue the wrong decision is to put these dogs down for the actions of their owners,” Mr. Rankin said.

Mr. Rankin reminded selectmen that both the dogs are under one year and essentially puppies. He said he was confident they could draft an acceptable agreement, even if it called for the current owners to face criminal or civil charges if they ever brought the dogs back to the Island.

Mr. Young apologized for his failed attempt on February 2 to get Zion released from the pound, pretending that the selectmen had permitted the removal.

“I am deeply sorry for going into Animal Health Care; it was not my intention to undermine the integrity of this process. I’ve been a community member my whole lifetime and it’s extremely important for me to take responsibility for any damages or problems I have caused,” Mr. Young said. “This has been the toughest thing we have ever gone through, me and Anna, and we just want the opportunity to move on with our lives and take our dogs somewhere they can be safe and bring nothing but joy and happiness to people’s lives.”

Through tears, Ms. Bolotovsky also pleaded with selectmen to spare the dogs.

“You cannot imagine how hard this month has been. It has changed me as a person and as dog owner forever . . . I only hope you can consider that it’s not the dogs’ fault. It’s our fault,” she said. “My entire family has not been able to sleep, because he is a member of our family and they are suffering.”

Many twists

The fate of the two dogs has taken more twists than a country road.

On Saturday, February 11, selectmen met and postponed signing a euthanization order. Richard Knabel and Jeffrey Manter attended the special meeting. Mr. Rankin was there, and he submitted a proposal to spare the life of Zion and instead give him to new owners.

During a phone conversation Monday, Mr. Knabel said he did not feel comfortable signing the euthanization order without the third selectman, Cynthia Mitchell, being present. He also said he was not prepared to sign the order, because of efforts under way to place the dogs with new owners.

“I was the one saying it looks like they are trying to put together a rescue effort to try and place the dogs with more appropriate owners,” Mr. Knabel said Monday. “They had put together a possible settlement — and I felt it was something we should talk about.”

The selectmen met on February 1, and were divided on what to do. There had been three livestock killing episodes by then that the fenced enclosure hadn’t prevented. The selectmen voted 2-1 to direct the town attorney to draft an agreement that would spare the lives of the two dogs and instead ban them from town forever. Chairman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter dissented, calling for the harsher penalty.

But on February 8, the selectmen voted to rescind that earlier vote and instead have the dogs euthanized, after Mr. Taggart went to Animal Health Care and tried to get Zion released from the pound.

Although the motion called for both dogs to be put down, in reality it only affected Zion. Selectmen had no legal authority to force the owners to return Sensi, the second dog, to the Island.

Foul behavior

The first incident involving the dogs occurred on November 10, when they killed two geese owned by Richard 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 geese, all of which they did.

Loose again, the dogs killed Mr. Andre’s livestock on December 14, and again January 13. On the latest occasion, the pair reportedly killed 14 chickens and attacked some geese.

Selectmen last week discussed the incident that led to their decision to euthanize the dogs. At their meeting on February 8, Mr. Manter read a letter from animal control officer Joanie Jenkinson about the incident.

“Terry, from Animal Health Care, called me to say Taggart Young was there, and he told her that at the hearing last night the town said he could get Zion out of the pound,” Ms. Jenkinson wrote. “I said ‘no,’ he could not have Zion because the hearing clearly stated to him and his lawyer that the dog is to stay at the pound.”

The selectmen referred to this incident several times as they deliberated about what to do with the dogs. They also cited a letter from Mr. Andre, in which he expressed his concerns about the proposal to ban the dogs from town instead of euthanizing them.

“I am no longer convinced that they have any intention to honor the arrangement that eventually may be executed,” Mr. Andre wrote. “In some part, I’ve reached this conclusion based on statements at the hearing, their aggressive approach to the Animal Control Officer… and their attempt at removing the dog from the pound during the week through deception.”

The motion approved by selectmen required that both dogs be euthanized leaving the owners the right to appeal the selectmen’s decision in Edgartown District Court.

Before selectmen made their decision Wednesday, the two dog owners pleaded with them to spare the two animals.

“If there is one thing you can trust me on is that we care about our dogs…,” Mr. Young said. “Under no circumstance would we want to bring them back here where they can be killed. I will give you my personal word they won’t return. It’s not a place we want to bring them again.”

“That wasn’t to get him out and lose your faith,” Ms. Bolotovsky said, referring to the incident at the pound. “It was to get him safe. Obviously they are like our kids.”

But selectmen said they had given the owners chances, and that they had little faith the couple wouldn’t bring the dogs back here in the future.

“I don’t dispute we have come up with terms that can be agreed to,” Ms. Mitchell said. “My hesitation is I don’t have confidence that those that would sign it have the ability to live up to it… You chose to put the dogs in a situation where they were out of your control and it happened again and it happened again. I don’t know if I believe what you say, and it pains me to say that. But I have an obligation to protect the livestock of this town.”