Selectmen keep dog complaint hearing open

Owner hopes to rehome dog after attacks.

Selectmen did not want the dog to be put down, but felt it needed to be removed from the community. — Michael Cummo

In an emotional Oak Bluffs selectmen meeting on Tuesday, town leaders chose to continue a public hearing for Hula, a dog owned by Oak Bluffs resident Ben Durrell, allowing Durrell to find an off-Island home for his dog following a recent attack on a neighbor.

Selectmen were faced with deciding whether to deem the dog a nuisance or dangerous. If deemed a dangerous dog, selectmen issue one or more of the following orders: the dog be humanely restrained, securely confined to the indoor or outdoor premises, when removed from premises the dog must be muzzled, dog owner must keep a $100,000 liability insurance policy, dog owner must provide animal control with information, the dog be spayed or neutered, or the dog be put down.

Grace Burke, the town’s animal control officer, said she would not deem the dog dangerous — only a nuisance. The incident took place on May 13. Burke told selectmen this was her first dog biting complaint, and it took her additional time to file the complaint.

Sallyann Kakas told selectmen that on the day of the incident she was walking down the street when the dog came charging out of Durrell’s home and bit her on both of her legs. She said she began screaming for help when Durrell arrived, restrained his dog, called the police, and animal control.

“I am still wounded, unfortunately, by this attack that happened several months ago. I still may have to get an operation to get rid of the hematoma,” Kakas said. “I’m still shaken by this. I love dogs … I am frightened to walk down that road.”

Kakas said Durrell had been cooperative and helpful, but said the dog should be deemed dangerous.

Durrell said this was not the first time his dog had attacked someone. “We love our dog, our dog has been a part of our family for eight years, and I think Sallyann’s well-being is more important and our neighbors’ sense of well-being is more important than our relationship with Hula,” Durrell said. “I would agree that Hula is more than a nuisance.”

Durrell said he felt he had two options: finding Hula a new home or putting her down. He told selectmen his preference was to find her a new home, and he was in contact with two facilities off-Island to relocate Hula.

Selectman Ryan Ruley said he owns dogs himself, and he wanted to see the dog go to a safe place, but if the dog attacked another person or animal, he would vote to have it put down.

Police Chief Erik Blake suggested selectmen continue the hearing, allowing Durrell to work with Burke on securing the dog until a new home is found.

Selectmen closed the public hearing, but then reopened it after selectman Jason Balboni said that deeming the dog dangerous would actually allow Durrell to keep the dog where it is instead of finding a new home.

Selectmen decided to continue the hearing to ensure the dog leaves the neighborhood.

They put stipulations on the dog that would be the same if the dog were deemed dangerous, but by leaving the hearing open, Durrell has the ability to find a new home for his dog. 

“What we just did — it procedurally is painful because we had to navigate it, and there’s a lot of emotion in our Zoom room — but what we did tonight was put the same stipulations had we voted it to be a dangerous dog, but we kept the option open to ensure the dog leaves the neighborhood,” Packish said. “Our priority is safety, and long-term safety.”

In other business, selectmen approved $1,500 for a septic test to be conducted at town-owned land on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. The test allows the affordable housing committee to put an RFP out to bid for a future affordable housing project.

Selectmen also appointed Matthew Rossi as the town’s new local inspector.