W.T. ‘dangerous dog’ under kill order

Select board follows ACO’s recommendation after bite incident.

Jim Bishop, along with his wife Martha Sullivan (not pictured), testified during a Zoom hearing about Stella their German shepherd.

Updated July 30

In a unanimous Wednesday vote, West Tisbury’s select board ordered a German shepherd named Stella to be put down after it allegedly bit a woman walking along Dr. Fisher Road. Stella had previously been declared dangerous by the board following an alleged bite incident in December

Animal Control Officer Anthony Cordray told the board several other people told him they’d been bitten by Stella but haven’t previously reported it. 

Select board chair Skipper Manter asked Cordray to focus on formally reported bites as opposed to those that hadn’t been. Cordray later told The Times that there were three reported bites attributed to Stella and an alleged 12 other bites informally reported. 

Manter swore in Cordray, Stella’s owners, Jim Bishop and Martha Sullivan, and bite victim Carolyn O’Brien.

According to Cordray’s testimony and written report, as well as O’Brien’s testimony and written complaint, O’Brien was walking along Dr. Fisher Road on July 20 when Stella allegedly came up behind her and bit her on the rear of her leg. 

O’Brien wrote in her complaint that she spied a dog moving “quickly and quietly” behind bushes. She then heard barking, she wrote, and the dog came onto the road. At this time, O’Brien said she reversed course and walked back in the direction she came from “but the dog pursued me, biting me on my right rear hamstring.” 

O’Brien testified she was “very freaked out” from the bite incident with Stella. 

Cordray said he went to the owners’ home following the bite incident and told Sullivan Stella had bitten somebody and had done so while off-leash. Cordray said he reminded Sullivan the select board had previously ordered Stella leashed at all times. Cordray testified he took possession of Stella and quarantined her. 

Cordray also testified that he’d received a prior complaint about Stella being loose and allegedly causing a person to have to defend themselves from her with rocks and sticks. 

Bishop testified that he was out of state when the alleged bite happened. He described Stella as “very protective of my wife.”

Sullivan testified she’d just returned from the transfer station and was unloading barrels from her vehicle when one of her dogs jumped out “and chased something in the bushes.” The dog, whose name wasn’t given, began barking at somebody on the road. Stella also ran out, according to Sullivan, because “evidently Stella took that as a threat to the property.” Stella decided to chase the person, Sullivan testified.

“I called her and she came right back to me,” she testified.

Sullivan testified that she was unaware at the time Stella had bitten somebody.

Manter said the board previously ordered the dog “restrained at all times” and ordered an enclosure be constructed. 

“We deemed the dog to be a dangerous dog,” select board member Cynthia Mitchell said.

Bishop testified that he had tapped a builder to fence in 1.5 acres of land for Stella with seven foot high fencing at an estimated cost of $10,000 and a contract for the work was ready to be signed. 

“If in fact that will keep us from having to put the dog down,” he said.

“I understand she’s nipped people,” Bishop testified, “but she’s not a vicious dog.”

Bishop testified the incident wasn’t Stella’s fault. It was a “slip” by her owners on that given day.

After closing the hearing, Manter said the dog once again brought up the fact the dog had already been declared dangerous and despite that, another incident took place. 

“There’s a danger to the community here, a danger to the people that I don’t think we can ignore,” Manter said.

“I don’t make this recommendation lightly,” Cordray said, “but based on the aggressive history of the dog and the lack of control Sullivan has of the dog — also the fact that it’s morally not right to rehome the dog, it’s just leaving the problem for someone else — I would recommend euthanasia.’

Cordray also recommended he be allowed to maintain control of the dog until a 20-day appeal period had ended.

Cordray later told The Times 20 days was a mistake. The owners have 10 days to appeal the decision in Edgartown District Court. Cordray said the order that will be sent to Stella’s owners will have the accurate appeal window. 

The board unanimously adopted Cordray’s recommendation. 

“I’m extremely sorry for all the people involved, including the dog,” Manter said.

Cordray said the owner could visit Stella under supervision during the appeal period.

Updated to reflect the correct appeal window for the select board’s decision. 



  1. Once again, it’s not the breed, it’s not the dog, it’s the human behind the dog. Very sad to hear this/
    Their are other options besides dog murder. Stella could be rehomed off island with the help of a local vet through a German Shepard rescue organization and rehabilitated by someone who knows how to handle her. There are animal welfare people people who take in such cases.
    Another very sad failure on the part of humans to do right by an innocent dog.

    • Like people some dogs behavior is unacceptable and they must be put down.

      Are you suggesting that an Island dog should be sent into exile due to the dog’s behavior problems?

      If I bite you I am criminal not a victim

  2. When, oh when, are dogs finally going to be banned permanently on Martha’s Vineyard?
    “Man’s best friend” strikes again.
    I guess the Selectmen are waiting till the first person is killed by a dog.

  3. My career as a Mailman included being bitten 2 times by an unleashed dog. Before each bite the owners hollered “don’t worry he won’t bite”. After each bite guess what they said? “He’s never done that before”. I agree with Kazakh, it’s just a matter of time before someone (likely a child) will die due to a careless owner allowing their pet to run free. I’m just saying…….

  4. Any other kind of animal, or a human for that matter, that was guilty of this behavior and there wouldn’t be any questioning of the WT Select Board’s decision. But it’s a dog so “Oh no, you can’t do that!” Ridiculous.

  5. Very sad to hear this. German Shepard’s are very protective breed of owners. Come up with a better solution something else can be done!

  6. I find the whole thing very sad. I’m sure the owners are nice people who love Stella very much. it’s just that it’s so vitally important to have the upper hand with a dog like this who has a tendency even to nip because ultimately on leash discipline and basic obedience can save a dogs life. I hope that someone sensible will be able to resolve the situation in a way that preserves Stella’s life and rehomes her with a skillful dog person experienced in behavioral issues. That would be the compassionate solution (off island ) so there’s no chance of Stella ever getting into trouble on the island again. But as I’ve said over and over it’s not the dog it’s the humans who bear the responsibility for this tragic and preventable situation. I feel for the family who lost their dog and I feel for Stella and her family.

    • Of course it is the dog. Would you rather be walking on the beach facing a Yorkshire Terrier or a Pit bull? Yes dogs need training but in large part certain breeds are dangerous. German Shepherds, Pit Bulls Rottweilers, Prensa Canaris and a few others. This is a worn out canard about owners and dogs.

    • Thank you. Some breeds can certainly be more challenging than others and some rescue dogs of any breed can come with baggage and behavioral issues. The most important thing a dog needs from the human is LEADERSHIP. The human must always have the upper hand in the relationship. This starts with basic obedience on leash training and the routine of multiple on leash walks daily. . This lets the dog know who is the dominant one in the relationship. Just the fact that Stella was allowed to be in a position where she could run after someone and nip or bite somebody yet again or attack and kill another dog demonstrates continued negligence on the part of the owners to keep Stella leashed when outside on walks and inside the fenced yard that they promised to build and didn’t. This is in no way the fault of the dog. The town select persons are within their rights to cite negligence at this point and to have the dog removed from the home. They do not have the right to kill Stella because Stella is an innocent animal. I hope and pray that someone who is a skillful dog handler trainer will come forward and offer to intervene in Stella’s behalf and adopt her. With the right training and the right skillful person Stella would have a chance for a new lease on life. As I have previously stated I feel this should happen ideally off island or at least out of the town of West Tisbury. No dog should be murdered because her owners did not train her properly. That is cruel, unreasonable and extreme. Surely we have evolved beyond this Wild West mentality.
      Some dogs are more than the owners can handle and things can and do happen. But it’s up to the humans to work out a peaceful loving solution even in the face of tragedy. I wish I were in a position to adopt Stella myself because I would. She deserves the chance to receive the guidance she needs from an experienced compassionate dog person.

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