Updated July 24
In a unanimous vote Wednesday evening, West Tisbury selectmen labeled a local dog a nuisance and in a separate 2-1 vote ordered it fenced in following a report it slaughtered a pet hen named “Buffy.” Mystery writer Cynthia Riggs came before the board telephonically and recounted how her studio tenant discovered the dog slaying the hen outside her door on the evening of July 7.
After hearing a commotion, Riggs said her tenant went to the door to investigate, whereupon she saw “a very large gray and white dog running to her studio, with Buffy, one of our hens, in his mouth, shaking her.”
Riggs said the tenant shouted at the dog and it ran off. The police were then called and they called animal control officer Anthony Cordray, who Riggs said arrived promptly. The hen was dead, Riggs said. Cordray scouted the neighborhood and within “10 minutes,” returned with photos of a dog and upon viewing them, the tenant said she was “reasonably certain” they were of the dog that killed the hen.
Lynn Christoffers, Riggs’ tenant, told the board the account Riggs gave them was accurate. (Cristoffers is a contributor to The Times.)
“I will say that the entire incident happened very quickly, because the commotion was so loud, I ran to the door — I just was more focused on the hen than I was on the dog, but it was definitely that coloration and that size. And I can’t tell you how harmful it is, because these are pets, to have them just killed like that.”
Christoffers went on to say a year earlier, 13 of Riggs’ birds were killed by an unidentified assailant. “Which makes one think it can happen again,” she said.
Matt Hayden, owner of the dog, told the board his dog “has an alibi” for the incident last year.
“So just drop that from all you guys’ brains,” he said. “I have no qualms that she might have done the July 7th one. You can only run after a dog so long before, like, you lose her. I run after my dog. I get in my car. I chase the hell out of it. I do my best to restrain her. A dog’s a dog. Sometimes stuff happens. Year ago, I don’t know. This one, she could have done it. I’m not saying she did or didn’t, but I’m not saying she wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t put it past her to do it. She did get loose, couldn’t find her, and the chicken is dead, so I’m sorry about Buffy, but my dog probably did kill Buffy, but I don’t know what happened a year ago, but I knew the day, because Bradley was at my house looking for my dog, and it was right in my car. That’s all I got to say. Whatever you want me to do with the dog, I’ll kill it, I’ll cage it — I’m down for whatever. I’m just trying to get along with everybody in town.”
Selectman Skipper Manter said he wanted to make clear the hearing wasn’t about events from a year ago, but the recent July event. Selectman Cynthia Mitchell and animal control officer Anthony Cordray agreed.
Cordray recommended the board deem Hayden’s dog a nuisance. Cordray later told The Times the dog was a husky named Nesta.
Based on the eyewitness account and the timeliness of the animal control officer’s investigation, among other factors, Manter said “the preponderance of evidence” led him to believe the dog did the July 7 killing.
“I would agree completely with Skipper,” Cordray said.
Asked by Mitchell if he thought the dog was the perpetrator, selectman Kent Healy said, “It certainly appears that way, yes.”
Ahead of the vote, Hayden asked what the definition of a nuisance dog was.
Mitchell read the statute. “A dog that 1. By excessive excessive barking or other disturbance is a source of annoyance to a sick person who is residing in the vicinity, or 2. By excessive barking, causing damage, or other interference, a reasonable person would find such such behavior disruptive to one’s quiet and peaceful enjoyment, or 3. Has threatened or attacked livestock, a domestic animal, or a person, but such threat or attack was not a grossly disproportionate reaction under all the circumstances.”
“I think half the dogs on New Lane will fall into that category,” Hayden said.
Following the board’s vote, Cordray recommended a six-foot-high fence enclosure of no less than 400 square feet with double gates “installed in a manner that prevents the dog from escaping,” a doghouse with ample room for the dog, and the use of a leash “at all times when outside the enclosure.”
“If that’s something that’s going to be enforced, I will be euthanizing my dog this weekend,” Hayden said. “And you can come over and watch if you want.”
Hayden went on to say he couldn’t afford such an enclosure.
“If the dog was euthanized, obviously this would cease,” Manter said, “but I just don’t know, Matt, maybe there are people out there — organizations that might be able to assist you financially with a gate and fencing.”
Manter said he hoped Hayden wouldn’t look at the matter “quite so gloomily.”
Hayden said he has wanted fencing, but has other household construction items that take priority.
“There are adoption agencies on the Island that you could take [her] to,” Cordray said. Among other things, Cordray said, adoption would be less expensive than euthanizing the dog.
Manter said he wouldn’t recommend what Cordray suggested.
Hayden said he intends to euthanize his own dog “his own way,” in response to a suggestion that he seek options for adoption on the Island.
Mitchell said she expects Cordray will be as supportive as possible going forward.
Manter then asked Cordray if he recalled an incident “over in the Pond View Farm area” with the same dog, an incident “I had,” Manter said.
Cordray said he did recall that incident.
Chasing chickens and horses, Manter said. “And what did Mr. Hayden tell you he was going to do with his dog at that time?”
“That was a year ago,” Cordray said. “I think he said he was going to keep it restrained.”
“I thought you told me he said he had to euthanize,” Manter said.
“Well, he might have said that,” Cordray said. “It was a year ago.”
“I called him because she got loose again and I was scared [she] went after the sheep that [she] was caught at before, and I said he might have to euthanize [her] because once she gets in that mode …”
Mitchell put the kibosh on the recollections. “Can we keep the discussion to the matter at hand, please?” she asked.
“As you know, I have taken a strong stand on dogs that have destroyed or attacked or worried livestock since I’ve been a member of the board of selectmen,” Manter said. ‘I think it’s imperative that we support our farmers in our community.”
Manter went on to say West Tisbury used to be composed of huge farms but now many are small and many people have backyard farms.
“People should know we’re an agricultural community, and they come first,” he added. “It’s terribly unfortunate that Cynthia went through this.”
Manter said once a dog has destroyed livestock once, “that should be it. And I’m wholly in favor of having the dog euthanized.”
The board opted not to take action harsher than what Cordray recommended. The board voted 2-1 to authorize the fencing order, with Manter being the dissenting vote. The board gave Hayden three weeks to complete the work.
Cordray reported Riggs declined to accept compensation for the hen from the town.
Riggs later told The Times said she believed Hayden’s dog was behind the slaughter of 13 or her birds last summer.
“No question about it,” she said. “Because after that dog attack — it had been a rainy day — so we scouted the property and we found a big dog paw print … over near [my] solar array, leading toward New Lane. The exact same direction [it] went this time.”
Riggs went on to say she felt a second massacre was narrowly averted.
“Lynn feels, and I feel too, that if she hadn’t intercepted the dog, she’d again have killed all the animals that were around.”
She said she bore no ill will toward the dog. She blames the owner.
Riggs said her chickens were pets as much as Hayden’s dog is a pet.
“They’re not just chickens, they’ve got names,” she said. She said the other chickens have been “traumatized” by the attack, as evidenced, she said, by a precipitous decline in their egg laying.
Riggs said, to her mind, the mystery of what happened to her birds last year has been resolved.
“I feel as if it’s a certain amount of closure on this, because we were convinced that we knew who the dog was, and nobody was saying anything,” she said, “none of the neighbors, nobody would even say that was the dog.”
Updated to correct the board’s vote on fencing in the dog, to give the dog’s name, and to identify its breed.