‘We will meet again someday’

Vigil held for Fergus; dog’s rescuer and trainer dismayed by his death.

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Updated Aug. 11

A vigil was held Friday evening for Fergus, a dog initially reported missing and then discovered euthanized. 

The vigil was held in West Tisbury on the grassy edge of Airport Road, a short distance from Animal Health Care, where the dog’s life was taken. Led by Ellen Harley, who has accused her son of having Fergus put down without a proper reason, a small group gathered to remember Fergus and to discuss how to honor him. Clutching two of Fergus’ stuffed toys, Harley told those gathered that Fergus wasn’t an aggressive dog. As evidence Fergus played gently, Harley said, the toys weren’t damaged. 

“Fergus, we will meet again someday,” she said.

The small group resolved to hold a dog walk in Fergus’ memory in early September on East Chop Drive. They also discussed the possibility of developing legislation to tighten the euthanasia rules for dogs. 

The vigil came days after the death of Fergus, a dog about 2 years old, which was first reported by The Times. The story has generated dozens of comments online, and has reverberated among those in the pet rescue community.

In a letter to The Times, Greg Worley disputes the account that his mother, Ellen Harley, gave to police and the newspaper, which he called “disturbing.” He wrote that his mother sent him a text message asking him to take back the dogs in July, and provided a copy of that alleged text message to the newspaper. In that message, Ellen Harley talks about finding a new home for Lola through Leslie Hurd of Angels Helping Animals. Fergus is not mentioned in the text.

Ed and I have found that at our ages having two large young energetic dogs is too much. We reached out to Leslie Hurd and she has found after many interviews, what appears to be a good match for Lola,” the text states.

Worley alleges in his letter to The Times that when he picked up Fergus and brought the dog home, it lunged and growled at a 12-year-old boy visiting the house.

I immediately restrained him. It is a good thing I was there, and this terrified me,” Worley wrote. “I sadly called our veterinarian to have him euthanized.”

Worley wrote about the decision being a difficult one, but has not responded to questions from The Times about why he didn’t return it to Angels Helping Animals, where he adopted Fergus, and the health and well-being of Lola. “I sympathize with her sadness, but contrary to her claim, my children and I loved Fergus, and he loved us,” Worley wrote. “My decision to humanely end his life was sad and painful. I concluded that Fergus had become a menace to innocent strangers, including friends of my children.”

Worley’s letter also mentions other dog bites involving dogs cared for by his mother. He provided documents for those as well. “Although I do not condemn her for exposing people to the danger of dog attack, after all, she is my mother, I have different views about the tradeoff between human safety and animal rights,” Worley wrote. “I am so grateful that my parents cared for Fergus and Lola while my house was under construction. After Fergus attacked an unsuspecting female neighbor who was knocking on my mother’s front door, my mother wrote me that she was anxious for both dogs to return to my care. Since the woman was injured enough to require medical care, and Fergus’s bite had broken her skin, animal control required him to be quarantined for 10 days.”

In a brief phone conversation, Worley declined any further comment.

 

Fergus fondly remembered

The person who originally rescued Fergus and a trainer are fondly remembering the dog.

“I remember the day I picked him up,” Bill Smith said of Fergus. Smith runs 1 Love 4 Animals, an animal rescue and advocacy organization in Pennsylvania. Smith said he rescued Fergus and his sister, both purebred Labrador retrievers, from Amish breeders who were switching over to a different breed of dog. 

As The Times recently reported, Fergus was euthanized at Animal Health Care at the request of Richard (“Greg”) Worley because he was allegedly dangerous. Harley, Worley’s mother, disputes that Fergus was dangerous, and alleged Worley abandoned the dog to her, only to seize the dog while she was away. Fergus, a rescue, was licenced to Worley, according to Edgartown Animal Control Officer Betsy Buck.

Smith said most of the work he does involves rescuing dogs from what he described as Amish and Mennonite “puppy mills” in Pennsylvania. From an Amish breeder, Smith said, the dogs were taken to a veterinarian to get checked out and vaccinated. The dogs were also implanted with microchips, he said. Fergus and his sister eventually found homes through Leslie Hurd of Angels Helping Animals, Smith said. “She is one of the people I trust most,” Smith said of Hurd.

In 25 years of animal rescue work, Smith said, he never encountered anything like what happened to Fergus. “It’s a real tragedy what happened,” Smith said.

Smith said he was baffled as to why it happened, but felt strongly it never should have come to that. Smith said Worley’s adoption contract stated he couldn’t euthanize Fergus. Since Fergus was chipped, he was at a loss as to why that didn’t trigger pause at the vet’s office. Smith said it was his understanding Harley took Fergus to Animal Health Care, the same office that euthanized him, in order to have his nails clipped a week earlier. 

Dr. Steven Atwood, who runs Animal Health Care, didn’t return repeated calls seeking comment.

Smith also said Harley fostered rescue dogs through his organization and Angels Helping Animals, and with that understanding, Fergus could have been considered under foster care by Harley at the time he was taken.

“I wrote to Mr. Worley and I told him how disappointed I was,” Smith said.

Smith said Lola, the other dog taken when Fergus was taken, wasn’t a rescue from his organization. 

“I know Ellen [Worley’s mother] is concerned about that dog,” Smith said.

Smith is busy with his rescue work. Many breeders have puppies they cannot sell because people who were buying them up in the thick of the first wave of the pandemic are now going back to work. In fact, he has a litter of Labs roughly half a year old right now. 

He is encountering a lot of poodle mixtures right now: “Everything is a doodle — mixed with a standard poodle.”

It’s not just puppies he places. Smith says after a female dog has diminished litter sizes or starts having stillbirths, breeders get rid of them. These dogs need homes. Sometimes the number of litters they have had has so weakened their gums and teeth that the teeth just fall out, he said. He also said he’s seen teeth go bad because of the foul food the dogs are fed.

Smith said he encounters dogs in harsh conditions, and sometimes in terrible health. He said he found one dog with an internal abscess that required $6,700 worth of surgery. That dog is living happily on the Vineyard now, he noted. Another dog, a Rottweiler, had two “petrified” fetuses inside when he found her. Smith said he works six days a week to rescue dogs from “puppy mills,” and through an agreement with the University of Pennsylvania, is able to provide treatment and training to some of them. A little over a decade ago, his work got a big boost from Oprah Winfrey, he said, after she invited him on her show. “Thank God for Oprah,” he said.

Concerning Fergus, Smith said he recently saw a video of Fergus rolling around and playing with one of Harley’s grandchildren. “That doesn’t look like an aggressive dog,” Smith said of Fergus.

Fergus’ former trainer, Ben Ferry, agreed. “He was a very good dog,” Ferry said. Ferry said he and his training partner, Austin Higgins, trained Fergus and Lola at the Harleys’ farm for months.

Asked if he thought Fergus was safe around kids, Ferry said, “Absolutely — 1,000 percent.”

Ferry said he helped look for Fergus when he was thought to be just missing. “We searched for hours and hours,” he said. He described learning Fergus was dead as “absolutely heartbreaking — sickening.”

An announcement for the vigil shared by Ferry states Fergus’ death was due to a “disgruntled son.” The announcement invited people to bring signs.

“Please remember to be respectful of property,” the announcement states. “This is intended to be a peaceful vigil in honor of a loving dog whose life was cut short.”

Updated with comments from Worley’s letter.

11 COMMENTS

  1. This is tragic.
    We have too many tragic dog stories for an island of our size. Hope those who harm or put animals in harms way are held to account.

  2. I stand for Fergus. I stand for Stella. I stand for all the innocent dogs in this world who rely upon us to teach them what they need to know in order to live among us as balanced, happy companions. This keeps everybody safe That’s what Love does. I stand for Love. 💖

  3. So sad to read the lose of Fergus. If only he was given the forever home and care he so deserve! What a sweet face, all they want is to share unconditional love with us!

  4. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Fergus since I first read about him. He would have continued to bring so much joy to those around him, as Labs always do. I just can’t believe this happened.

  5. Welcome to the world of some Vets. A business. Although Sad. 1 in 6 veterinarians have contemplated suicide. So compassion is needed here for the dog, but maybe the Vet as well.

  6. I’ve had dogs all my life and the decades of vet care from Dr Atwood at Animal Health Care has always been compassionate with excellent medical advice and care. Discussing the painful decision of when it’s time to put a beloved pet down has never been anything but loving and sensitive from this doctor who loves and enjoys the animals he cares for. I’m truly sorry for the sad story of Fergus, but the reaction is now out of hand and slanderous toward AHC and Dr. Atwood.

    Yesterday I posted a comment under the Times article, “Investigation continues into Chilmark camp incident”. Because it was Sunday and our moderators deserve a needed break from weeding through all our comments, my comment there, decrying the disconnect of islandlers who like to see themselves as loving and compassionate, was at the head of the queue and posted ahead of the ones listed under the “recent comments”, so unlikely to be seen by anyone as that article is now “old news” and no longer a hot topic for commenting. While it’s certainly true that one can hold compassion in their heart for both animals and for people, as most of us do, there is something very wrong with the messaging behind the outcry over Fergus and this vigil and the lack of same over a Black child injured in a racial incident at a Chilmark daycamp. Because I compared the two seemingly disparate stories and the community reactions they elicited, I will copy that comment here with the hope that people will understand why I find it so upsetting but necessary to compare a vigil for a dog with the non-empathy a physically and psychologically injured child received in a racist. I understand people have moved on to other stories, but the systemic racism that cannot be denied and is so obvious when comparing community reactions to two disparate stories is not going anywhere. One story elicits wanting more information before condemning terrible behavior, but the other story pounces with outrage and slander and a vigil.

    Here’s the comment:

    Jacqueline Mendez-Diez August 8, 2021 At 2:43 pm
    What is wrong with you people? Are entitled isanders really this blind to the systemic racism (and worse) that politely excuses the clear and blatantly racist abuse perpetrated by two 8-9 year old white children against an 8 year old Black child?

    While the powers-that-be debate whether a racial incident was a racial incident or should be dealt with as a “safe play” issue, (are you KIDDING me?), the camp, the staff, the town, and the responding community have dismally, pathetically, hurtfully failed this one child, his parents, and all of us. How do we respond? Not with love and support for the victim, but with a bland wish for teachable moments, a wait-and-see-uhtil-we-know-more, a search for possible excuses for the white boys, accusations that the victim may have deserved or instigated it, a worry that it’s “inflammatory” to see a racist incident as a racist incident, and with a glaring lack of awareness of the community’s systemic racism that makes my head spin:

    1. “I am not aware that there is, as yet, any evidence that this was a racial incident as opposed to the act of a disturbed child. To label it “racial” before investigation is irresponsible and inflammatory.”

    2. “When do Benjamin Crump and Rev. Sharptom arrive on our shores….”

    3. “The black boy could have been the aggressor and the white boys could have been retaliating. Tired of every time something like this happens the race card is pulled out.”

    4. “I do want to hear from all the boys (honestly) and what they were doing. Was it playing? Was it bullying? Do the white kids understand the repercussions of their actions? Are they sorry? Can all understand, forgive, learn and practice new behaviors moving ahead?”

    5. “…there’s no reason the camp should be closed. Why should every other child be punished because of the insensitive action of two other little kids. This is the perfect opportunity to discuss the history of African Americans in this country to help them understand
    how insensitive their actions were.”

    The abuse is called an act of “insensitivity,” and careful, caring, coddling, and cautiously approached attention is paid to the white abusers, leaving the victim and his family mostly out of the picture. The person writing this next comment even removes the fact that there were THREE children– the one who was abused, the victim, is ignored entirely:

    6. “Closing a whole summer camp because of one incident involving two specific children, no matter how reprehensible, looks to me like collective punishment.”

    I’m sure you’ve all read the pouring out of support and love for poor Fergus, the (apparentely) senselessly euthanized dog. Before all the facts are gathered in that case and any real conclusions of substance can be made, island support for the dog is nevertheless so heartfelt and 100% in agreement that there is a vigil scheduled. The community pours their heart out, eloquently and sincerely, in posts like this:

    “I stand for Fergus. I stand for Stella. I stand for all the innocent dogs in this world who rely upon us to teach them what they need to know in order to live among us as balanced, happy companions. This keeps everybody safe That’s what Love does. I stand for Love. 💖”

    But back to Chilmark. No love here in these comments. Not even much real and deserved anger at how this could have happened. Except for 3 women who stood with signs outside the camp, who the hell is standing for the Black child? Where’s the vigil? Where’s the consequence that is so swift and confident in its appropriateness that it is felt by everyone? Where’s the assurance that CCC is a safe environment when obviously it is not? Where’s the damn LOVE? That’s what I’d like to know. Camp is open and nothing is happening to stop the systemic racism that we are all so accustomed to, it’s like breathing for us. Business as usual here in Chilmark.

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