To the Editor:
I recently attended a meeting of the selectmen in Edgartown, at the request of my friend, Jacqui Callari-Robinson. She and her husband bought a house and moved full-time to Vineyard Haven in July 2018. In July 2019, the tankless water heater in their basement exploded at about 5 am, sending toxic smoke through their house, but the fire was contained before it hit the propane heater by the quick actions of the fire department. Her home was deemed uninhabitable, and she and her family moved to an apartment until her homeowner’s insurance secured a temporary dwelling for Jacqui and her family in Edgartown. The entire family was extremely traumatized, and exhausted after two moves.
On July 16, after her second move of the summer, Jacqui went to the grocery store to restock. At the time, she told me she had no clothes or personal belongings, could barely find her wallet, was not sleeping, and was completely overwhelmed. When she returned from the grocery store, she carried bags to the door of her temporary housing, and when struggling with the door, and bags, her miniature dachshund escaped. Her son was at work, and her husband was off-Island at his job. She got the door open, her dogs rushed out, and then heard a woman scream. She ran toward the barking dogs, and found that her miniature dachshund had bitten a woman who was walking her dog on the road beyond the house. In the commotion of four dogs, Jacqui grabbed her dogs to bring them back into the house, and when she went back outside, the woman had left. She later learned that her dachshund had in fact broken the skin on the woman’s leg, and Jacqui was mortified. This dachshund had never bitten or nipped anyone in the past. Subsequently, the woman filed a complaint with the selectmen.
At the hearing, each woman spoke very briefly, and when they attempted to add to their story, they were silenced by a selectman who kept holding up her hand to indicate they should not speak. Jacqui explained that it had been an accident that the dogs had escaped their new house, and apologized for what happened. The animal control officer gave a brief summary, described the bite, and recommended that the dog be kept in a fenced yard, and be on leash outside at all times.
No one seemed to take into account the actual details of the event. The dogs were not outside, running free. This was not Jacqui’s house, and she had just suffered an extremely disturbing and frightening trauma, as had the animals. Jacqui and her family are no longer in that house in Edgartown, but have secured a house off-Island while they await the long and painful reconstruction of their home in Vineyard Haven, which has a fenced yard. I raised my hand and asked the animal control officer if dogs that have been traumatized might behave in ways that are not their normal habit. Before she could answer, Selectman Smadbeck interrupted and made his statement, “I’m not a dog psychiatrist …”
As an observer, I was struck by the selectmen’s cursory knowledge of the facts, and their intimidating behavior. Selectman Donorama’s comment, “If this happens again … we won’t be so lenient,” was threatening. The whole scene was not representative of the majority of the people on the Vineyard. The Vineyard is a warm, inviting, welcoming environment where residents are supportive of one another. This version of small town politics was awful and embarrassing to watch.