Oak Bluffs selectmen vote to euthanize two dogs

Worcester Avenue residents described years of living in fear, and implored the board to take action.

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John Stevenson, standing, told selectmen he was deeply shaken from the attack of pit bulls owned by Kaitlyn and Hillary Seaton (at left). — Barry Stringfellow

In an emotional proceeding, Oak Bluffs selectmen voted unanimously, 5-0, to endorse the recommendation of Animal Control Officer Patty Grant to deem two dogs “dangerous” and to have them humanely euthanized. Worcester Avenue residents showed up in numbers Tuesday night to describe the fear that the two dogs, Sasha and Rosie, owned by Hilary Seaton and daughter Kaitlyn Seaton, have instilled in their neighborhood.

The final straw was a near fatal attack on a 10-year-old cockapoo, Toby, owned by John Stevenson, who was walking his dog by the Seaton house on Nov. 24 when the two pit bulls escaped the house at 23 Worcester Ave. and viciously attacked.

Toby’s injuries were deemed life-threatening at Vineyard Veterinary Clinic, and he was transported to Bourne’s Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists for extensive surgery. Toby had numerous puncture holes on his back, his front right leg, and his left hind leg. Much of the skin was torn off his back, and half of his left ear was bitten off.

He is now home and is expected to survive.

“This is a very difficult thing for us to get through,” chairman of the selectmen Kathy Burton said before the public hearing began. “We feel for everyone here, who is either a victim or an owner. This is going to be tough.”

Ms. Burton said there was a “tremendous pattern” of problems with Sasha and Rosie, citing numerous complaints to police and animal control dating back to 2015.

Hillary Seaton, owner of Sasha, said she wasn’t aware that so many complaints had been filed with the town, to the audible disbelief of her neighbors. Some of the complaints were about Bruin, a pit bull she had given up for adoption.

Complaints on file included Sasha and Rosie growling and charging at passersby, excessive barking during the night, not responding to owners’ commands, running free in the neighborhood, trapping someone in a car, and creating constant fear of attack in the neighborhood.

Both Hillary and her daughter Kaitlyn, owner of Rosie, were extremely contrite, and promised to better control the dogs in the future. Kaitlyn also offered to cover the veterinary bills for Toby.

“It was a complete shock to me, and really upsetting I couldn’t be there to prevent it,” Kaitlyn said. “I’ve had her seen by a dog trainer. I feel awful and I want to be sure nothing like this will happen again.”

Hillary was watching Rosie for Kaitlyn, a Tisbury resident, at the time of the attack. The dogs escaped the house, and didn’t respond to her commands.

“It’s such a shock, I would never expect her to do this, she has such a loving personality,” Kaitlyn said in a quavering voice. “A dog is the best thing that can happen to you. I feel so terrible. Knowing my dog did that makes me sick, but I love her to death. She’s like my therapy dog.”

Kaitlyn promised Rosie would never go to Worcester Avenue again, and she would actively train the dog with Karen Ogden, who had evaluated the dog.

In her report, Ms. Odgen said Rosie showed “conflicting behavior.”

 

Enough is enough

Many Worcester Avenue residents spoke. “Enough is enough,” was a frequently used phrase.

Toby.

Deb Stevenson, owner of Toby along with her husband John and daughter Casey, said the gruesome attack has left her family traumatized. “I saw some horrific things that I wish I hadn’t seen,” she said. “I wasn’t there that night to hear the excruciating cries that my daughter and my husband heard. My husband had to see some horrific things that he will never get out of his mind. He has night terrors now.”

Ms. Stevenson said she had spoken to Hillary on numerous occasions about her lack of control of the dogs. “I said, Try to control this dog, because soon she’ll be controlling you and she will be out of control. That was four or five years ago. If you let these dogs go home, I guarantee we’ll see each other again. Enough is enough. I want my Worcester Avenue back.”

A distraught John Stevenson described the attack: “It happened so fast, within three to five seconds they were on Toby and me,” he said. “My dog did not deserve this, and I didn’t either.”

Mr. Stevenson said the dogs have frequently run loose in the neighborhood. “It’s got to stop,” he said.

Amy Smith, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, said she never felt unsafe until the dogs showed up. She expressed concern for her elderly parents, who also live in the neighborhood. “If the dogs jumped on my mother or my father, there’s no way they could protect themselves. My husband and I do not feel safe walking our Boston terrier,” she said. “My husband stands at the door when I walk the dog in our yard. We’ve seen them loose many times.”

“Nobody feels safe. I don’t walk down Worcester anymore,” Casey Stevenson said. “Toby was ripped apart. The crying I heard is not going to go out of my mind, ever. My dad has flashbacks, my dog has flashbacks. I don’t want those dogs back in my neighborhood. I don’t want those dogs living at all.”

 

Improvement unlikely

“There’s a pattern here that is really not acceptable, and I’m talking about the owner,” Ms. Burton said.

“This is a multiyear, multidog problem; all roads lead back to you,” selectman Brian Packish said to the Seatons. “You’ve systematically proven that you’re incapable of taking care of these dogs … It’s imprinted on these dogs that this behavior is acceptable. It’s unacceptable for these people to live in fear. Whatever the heaviest recommendation is from the dog officer, that’s what I’m going to support.”

Animal Control Officer Patty Grant said that on a standardized dog-bite scale, where six is fatal wounds, Barbara Newman, emergency liaison at Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists, said Toby’s wounds had been classified at level four and five.

“A level four biter will probably bite again,” Ms. Grant said. “The dog has insufficient bite inhibition, and is dangerous. Prognosis is poor because of the difficulty and danger of trying to teach adult dogs bite inhibition. The dog is highly likely to injure other dogs in future fights.”

Ms. Grant said dogs at level four essentially have to be kept in solitary confinement, and euthanasia is recommended.

“We’ve had these hearings in the past. I think what we see in this case is you’ve taken on very difficult dogs, and you’ve become prisoners to those dogs, and so have the people in the neighborhood,” selectman Greg Coogan said. “I think the hardest part for you is that you don’t have the time to give them the attention they need.”

Ms. Grant said if selectmen voted to euthanize, the dogs should be removed from their respective homes immediately.

After the vote, two Oak Bluffs police officers accompanied Ms. Grant as she left the meeting.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started to cover the bills for Toby’s veterinary care. As of Wednesday morning, $2,620 had been donated.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. This is such good news for the neighborhood. Sad for the dogs….owners fault. There should be a register of some sort so people like this can’t own an animal.

  2. Its not an easy decision but the board did the right thing. I’m sure there are lots of pit bull fans, but the question your home owner’s insurance company asks is ‘do you have a dog’? If the answer is “yes’, then you are asked the breed. Chances are, you won’t be offered coverage due to the history of this breed biting/attacking without provocation. A good friend of mine managed to survive many flights as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, getting shot at, hit with missles and bullets, yet was mauled by his daughter’s pitbull for no reason (despite being around the dog for 4 years)

  3. I hope these people never own another dog, they are completely irresponsible and now these dogs have to die.
    Dogs Of ANY BREED should not be allowed to run loose and wreak havoc.

  4. I’m happy to hear that there’s less focus on the dogs, and more focus on the owners.

    Pit bulls are a very gentle breed.

    But regardless of breed, negligent owners will create an environment where dogs learn bad habits.

    Sometimes those habits are so bad that they become fatal.

    It’s sad to see that those dogs had the pay the price of their owner’s mistake.

  5. Given equal levels of aggression, danger relates to size; strength; speed; agility; bite strength; and pain tolerance.

    Pits are very high in all of those areas–they have been bred that way. Pound-for-pound they are some of the more lethal dogs out there. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are necessarily going to act aggressive–but if they DO get aggressive, they are unusually dangerous for their size and weight.

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