Biting dog spared, but restrictions imposed
Aquinnah selectmen voted to declare a local dog dangerous and ordered severe restrictions on it, after the eight-year-old German shepherd's third aggressive attack on people who entered the owner's property.
Tension was thick in the tiny meeting room at Aquinnah Town Hall Monday at a special meeting called to consider the danger to the public posed by a dog owned by Megan Sargent. The selectmen acted after hearing from Ms. Sargent and from James Sanfilippo, the father of a teenager who was bitten in the most recent attack. The selectmen accepted five of six recommendations for restraining the dog, submitted by Angela Waldron, the town's dog officer.
"In my estimation, the dog is dangerous," said Ms. Waldron. "He may or may not be trainable at this point about aggression and biting, but I wouldn't rule that out."
According to the police report, the bite victim said she went to the Sargent home to leave a note for her friend. She entered the home, and the dog bit her on the thigh. She fled, and the dog chased her across the property until she took refuge in her vehicle.
Ms. Waldron told the board that this is the third aggressive incident involving the dog.
A delivery driver says he was attacked while trying to deliver a package. Ms. Sargent contends the delivery driver was not bitten, but concedes the dog tore the driver's uniform. In the other incident, a family acquaintance was bitten after feeding the animal a dog biscuit.
"I'm very upset that he bit my daughter's friend," said Ms. Sargent. "I am contemplating an extreme measure, I am considering euthanasia for my dog, it's very, very stressful. He's my family."
The selectmen first voted to formally declare the dog dangerous. With that step, two other state laws come into play. One statute provides that the dog's owner is now liable for triple damages if the dog harms someone. Another statute says law officers "shall kill" a dog found loose, after a previous order of restraint.
Next, the selectmen voted to order that the dog be licensed, that he be muzzled, that he never be let off a leash outside his home, that Ms. Sargent seek behavioral training for the dog, and that she post signs warning of a dangerous dog.
The restrictions were ordered effective immediately, and Ms. Waldron said she and Aquinnah police will monitor compliance.
The options open to the board ranged from taking no action to ordering that the dog be euthanized. The board rejected a recommendation that Ms. Sargent erect a fence around her State Road property to keep the dog contained. Ms. Sargent objected to the requirement.
"That ain't gonna happen," said Ms. Sargent. "I'm not going to make a pen. I don't live in suburbia, and I don't put my dog in a pen. "The dog is dangerous when he's protecting his property or his family, he's not dangerous, to date, in any other context."
Selectman Jim Newman commented on the difficulty of dealing with such issues in a small town where most people know each other, and where dogs are so integrated into daily life that the selectmen recently voted to welcome canines to one of the town's beaches.
The victim of the latest attack and the dog owner's daughter are close friends. The two families live about a mile apart.
"This is probably one of the hardest selectmen's meetings we've had," said Mr. Newman. "It's easy to talk about the dump, or the budget."
"It is a hard thing, but I think the right decision was made tonight," said selectman Camille Rose.
"I'm satisfied with the selectmen's recommendation to monitor the dog," said Mr. Sanfilippo. "The monitoring is the key, ensuring its restraint is key."