Updated July 15
Tisbury’s select board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to declare a white German shepherd named Ranger a dangerous dog following two bite incidents near the Black Dog Tavern.
In a 2-1 vote, the board stopped short of a euthanasia order, and set several conditions for Ranger and his owner, Andrea Peraino. Select board member Roy Cutrer, who expressed concerns Ranger might “fatally wound a young child,” was the dissenting vote. The vote came after a hearing at which two female bite victims gave emotional testimony about what they each described as surprise attacks from behind by Ranger that left them injured and shaken.
Peraino testified about the steps she had taken in the wake of the bites, including enrolling Ranger in a behavior modification program and the construction of a three-way entry point for better containment. Peraino’s attorney, Jeremy Cohen of Boston Dog Lawyers, didn’t dispute the bites occurred. Cohen told the board the bites Ranger inflicted, while “horrible,” didn’t rise to such a level that Ranger could be deemed an “extremely dangerous” dog. He advocated for “remedial measures,” and pointed out Peraino had already taken significant steps to ensure Ranger doesn’t bite someone again.
Select board member Larry Gomez agreed the wounds the dog inflicted were bad. He went so far as to say he was “horrified” at photographs of one of the victim’s wounds. Gomez said he felt sorry for the two women who were bitten.
The first of the two bite victims testified that she was a dog lover who “is afraid of dogs now.”
The woman said, “After looking down and seeing those large white teeth sink into my flesh, it’s not something I can put out of my mind very easily.” She said she found it to be “mind-boggling” that somebody else could be bitten by the same dog in the same area just two days after she was bitten.
“I really question whether the people who own and care for this dog understand what a danger he is to the community,” she said.
Tisbury Animal Control Officer Kate Hoffman told the board the call regarding the first bite incident came in on May 26 from Peraino. When Hoffman arrived at the scene, which was outside Peraino’s apartment at 20 Beach St. Extension, she said she was told by Peraino that Ranger had burst through a door and bit a woman on the leg. The victim had already left for the hospital, Hoffman said. Hoffman said she fined Peraino $25 for an unleashed dog and $25 for an unlicensed dog, and placed Ranger on a “10 day in-home rabies quarantine.”
In an interview with the victim, Hoffman said she was told an all-white German shepherd came running down a flight of exterior stairs and bit the woman on the “right thigh and buttocks area” as she was heading to the entrance of the Black Dog Tavern.
“She was treated at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for puncture wounds, scrapes, and bruising,” Hoffman said. She added the victim received a tetanus shot and a dose of antibiotics.
The second bite victim got upset recounting to the board what happened to her, and began to weep. She eventually turned her camera off to testify.
She described herself as a dog lover who, coincidentally, had two white German shepherds that were recently put down for health reasons.
The second woman said she thought she might have been struck by a car until the dog growled and shook its head as it bit her “several times and tore her pants.”
She said the attack left her with post-traumatic stress. She expressed bafflement at how the dog could escape from home quarantine, and said Ranger was, in her opinion, a danger to anyone in the area.
Hoffman said on May 28, a call came in from the Sheriff’s communications center about another bite incident. Hoffman said she arrived on scene to find the victim being treated by Tisbury EMS. Hoffman interviewed the victim on scene, and learned she was parking a bicycle outside the Black Dog Tavern when the dog burst through a door, ran down an exterior flight of stairs and bit the woman on her thigh before running away, with Peraino chasing after it.
“She described the dog as a large, white German shepherd,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said the victim received further treatment at a doctor’s office, including antibiotics and a tetanus shot.
Ranger was quarantined in the town kennel until June 5, Hoffman said and Peraino was fined again under the town’s leash law. Hoffman said there was also a $35-a-day fee for boarding the dog at the kennel.
Hoffman said photographs of both the victims’ wounds “showed very severe bruising with visible teeth marks.”
Peraino said she understood the perspective of the victims. “There is no denying this is a terrible situation — absolutely not,” she said. “It’s awful.”
Peraino said the dog wasn’t at fault, that a “secure, three-point entryway” was in place in another portion of the apartment where they had lived for some time. However, she said she and her boyfriend had recently gained access to another area of the building, and that was served by a screen door with a “faulty latch.” It was this door Ranger got through, she pointed out.
Cohen told the board Peraino has spent $5,000 on a behavior modification program for Ranger, has neutered him, and has medicated him. Cohen noted the screen doorway and stairs leading from it recently were reconstructed with a three-way entry point. He produced a photograph of the work.
Cutrer expressed concern about the town’s liability should the dog bite another person. “A dog of this nature should not be in a congested area,” Cutrer said. “I see the fencing and the improvements that were made to try and prevent it from happening, but the key word there is to try. You cannot guarantee that this won’t happen again … what if next time it’s a young child? What if it’s a toddler?”
Town counsel David Doneski informed the board that he could not rule out liability for Tisbury if the dog bites somebody again. “Our lives would be destroyed if this dog ever hurt a child,” Peraino said. “We would never allow that.”
Though the prospect of an order to euthanize the dog hung over the proceeding, the board opted to go with recommendations made by Hoffman.
Among the conditions the board adopted were the requirement of durable, doubled-gated entries where the dog lives, that the dog wear a basket muzzle outside the home, and be restrained with a minimum 300-pound tensile-strength leash and wear a dangerous dog collar or harness. Further, Ranger must be registered at whatever municipality he goes to if his owner moves. The owner must insure Ranger against liability for at least $100,000. The conditions will be deemed valid across the state, and if another bite occurs, the Tisbury animal control officer can seize Ranger.
The board’s decision didn’t sit well with the first bite victim. “I think it’s really really disrespectful to say that the next time there’s going to be an insurance policy, and there’s going to be action taken,” she said. “Meanwhile there are two of us who are still nursing injuries from this dog. I’m just perplexed.”
Brigham becomes second in command
On the recommendation of interim Police Chief Christopher Habekost, the select board voted unanimously to appoint Det. Bill Brigham to acting lieutenant for a period of up to six months.
Habekost told the board Brigham “has been doing a very good job” at the department and possesses “a wealth of knowledge and experience.”
Habekost said he has a good working relationship with Brigham.
Brigham thanked town administrator Jay Grande and the board. He said he was enthused to work with Habekost.
“I think it’s going to be a really good team,” he said. “We have a really good group of professional men and women at the Tisbury Police Department, so I’m really looking forward to this role.”
Brigham said he and Habekost have the support of the department, “which is important.”
He thanked his wife and daughter for accepting the demands that come with police work.
Grande told the board he met with the union and Habekost to discuss the lieutenant position, and not only found support but a belief the position was “key to moving forward.”
Even though the union supports the position, Grande said some negotiation will be necessary.
“This position is no longer included on the approved management and professional scale or the staffing plan for the Tisbury Police Department,” Grande said. “So following this meeting, we’ll need to enter into impact bargaining with the police union.”
Brigham becomes the third lieutenant in the department’s history. Ted Saulnier was the first to hold the role, just after the turn of the millennium, when he served under Chief John McCarthy and ultimately succeeded him. In 2013, Eerik Meisner became the next lieutenant. For reasons that remain opaque, Meisner was demoted to sergeant and then terminated by former Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio. Following a federal lawsuit, Meisner went on to settle with the town for $400,000.
Updated to correct the name of the Boston Dog Lawyers attorney.