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.