Town of NewSalem Selectboard

Dangerous Dog Hearing Minutes

March 26, 2018

Stowell Building, New Salem, MA 01355

Convened: 7:30 pm

Present: Randy Gordon, chair, Lisa DeWitt, Wayne Hachey, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Ken Bright; Jean Derderian, Historical Commission; Zara Dowling, Green Communities; Gail Spring, Animal Control Officer; Jayma Wilkins, Douglas Mulligan; Tom Doane; Cameron Woodcock, Athol Daily News Reporter

Dangerous Dog Hearing Regarding Complaint on Stone Hill Road

Mr. Gordon started off by reading the notice of the dog hearing sent by certified mail on March 8th, 2018. The hearing is under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140, §157 regarding dangerous dogs. The dogs in question are owned by Tom Doane. Mr. Gordon outlined the rules, including a focus on issues that are on hand. The focus should not be on things unrelated to the matter at hand. The issue here is the potential for dangerous animals. When people speak, they will be sworn in and are asked to be respectful. They will be allowed to speak, give responses, and that when speaking they speak to the Selectboard as opposed to each other. All parties were clear in understanding this. Mr. Gordon stated that once people are done speaking, there will be time allowed for responses. The Selectboard will be looking at evidence and deliberating and deciding upon the merits. After that the Selectboard will have a decision. Ms. Sprig was then invited to speak first. She started off by explaining her complaint to the town about dogs that are out of control. These dogs are purported to have attacked others, and that people are in fear of them. Two dogs have been mauled by the dogs, individuals have been pinned by the dogs in their vehicles and in their homes. Delivery professionals have also reported fear or concern. Attempts have been made to mediate with the owner, but to no avail at this stage. Mr. Gordon then reported about some corroborating documents that have been received about events that have occurred. These include documents from the Adams Animal Hospital and from Jayma Wilkins and Douglas Mulligan. During one incident the dogs broke into a fenced area with an Alpaca. The animal was fairly large, but unable to protect himself from the dogs. His ear, and most of his face was torn off. Ms. Wilkins and Mr. Mulligan were not present at the scene but understand the animal suffered. Mr. Doane offered to put the animal down and assured them that he would do everything possible to prevent further future incidents.

Currently both Ms. Wilkins and Mr. Mulligan have struggled to get in and out of their cars and home without aggression by the dogs. For a period of time an air gun was used to scare the dogs off. This no longer appears to work. There are concerns as to safety not only for them personally, but also for their dogs and other animals. Ms. Wilkins and Mr. Mulligan have both provided video and photographic evidence of the dog’s behavior as well as text messages with Mr. Doane. Mr. Gordon then read off a number of other incidents and animals injured. The Adams Animal Hospital materials helped to establish the injuries sustained and the costs entailed. Ms. Spring then presented copies of the videos and photographs as available for review by anyone present. She then briefly described what these show. The photographs include pictures of wounds and aggressive behavior. In her opinion, the materials are graphic and demonstrative. She then reported on work she did with the Town Clerk to determine the license status of the dogs. The dogs were not licensed at the time. The licensing scheme is intended to ensure that the dogs have received appropriate vaccination. It now appears that the dogs have been licensed as of this past week to a Deborah and a Britany at the same address as Tom Doane. An exact date is unknown as the Town Clerk doesn’t date the paperwork for the exact date and time. Mr. Gordon inquired about how many dogs there are. Ms. Spring responded that there are three dogs. Two to Deborah and one to Britany. Mr. Gordon then swore in all those present who will be speaking. This is sworn testimony. The rules of perjury thus apply. Mr. Gordon then invited those present who might have evidence on the merits of the complaint to come forward now. Ms. Wilkins started by speaking about some concerns she has about possible baiting of her dogs and some confusion about food left out by Mr. Doane or his wife.

Mr. Mulligan was also concerned about the food, noting that if he walks his dogs and they run to that food which is tucked about 25 feet off the road behind some trees, that if his dogs go after the food it might result in action against them such as poisoning of the food or other action. He further noted that the situation with the Alpaca was a disturbing incident that he and his wife attempted to put behind them so long as their neighbor appeared to be working on the problem. Mr. Mulligan then reported that he has been served with papers against trespassing on this neighbor’s property. Which further heightens his concern about the food. Mr. Doane interjected to claim that his no trespassing signs posted have been torn down and this was the underlying reason for the service of process for trespass. Mr. Gordon reminded those present that this issue is about the dogs. Mr. Doane responded that in his opinion the procedure of this hearing is wrong as he was informed this is a dog hearing but not a dangerous dog hearing. Ms. Aldrich responded that the wording sent to him was on the advice of Town Counsel. Mr. Doane then turned to the efforts he’s made to keep his dogs under control. This includes the building of a dog pen in his yard. He alleges that his dogs are not the only problem, that Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Wilkins dogs have come into his backyard and incited his dogs. His dogs eventually get out of their pen and give chase. He presented photographs of Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Wilkin’s dogs in his yard. He alleges that if they are that afraid of his dogs, why do they allow their dogs to go on to his property or walk them near his property? He also provided photographs of his dogs with their dogs in his yard including on his walkway. Mr. Hachey clarified as to the number of dogs. Mr. Doane responded that he had one daughters dog with him as well as another daughter’s dog and two dogs of his own. So at times there have been as many as four dogs on the premises. Currently there are only three. Ms. DeWitt clarified as to the types of dogs. Mr. Doane responded that his dogs are German Sheppard’s while Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Wilkins’s dogs are collies. Tom explained that he has offered to have a fence built on their property line. He’s retained a contractor to do it and will pay for it himself.

He also stated that he is willing to pay for a proper survey of the property line and build the fence three feet in on his property. He is further willing to build chain link fence or other style. Ms. Spring recommended an invisible fence. Mr. Doane responded that he’s installed an invisible fence before with previous dogs, but found that when they give chase to other dogs they will ignore the fence. Further, he would like to prevent Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Wilkins dogs from coming onto his property. He feels that this would be a simple resolution. Ms. Spring presented some of the photographs of the injuries sustained by Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Wilkins animals. Mr. Doane denied that these are proof that his dogs are responsible and noted that the injuries could have occurred on his own property after those dogs antagonized his dogs. Ms. Spring then went over some of her attempts to work with Mr. Doane to address the issue as well as some incidents between his dogs and other neighbors including an issue on North Main Street. Mr. Hachey then interjected to question about the food allegation. Mr. Doane responded by noting that his wife puts food out for raccoons. The food is placed away from his home and is tied to a trail camera. Mr. Hachey advised that putting this kind of bait out is unadvisable due to bears. Additionally, a rabid raccoon has already been shot in town. Mr. Doane noted that nothing in the food would hurt dogs and his wife took care to ensure that. Not necessarily due to the neighbor’s dogs, but due to concerns at any potential for harm to his own dogs. Mr. Gordon then asked for further evidence or commentary, but reminded that the focus is on facts. Ms. Wilkins stated that neither she nor her husband are not trying to be good neighbors or dog friendly. Things weren’t always this way. It wasn’t until the Alpaca situation that things changed and a pack mentality arouse among Mr. Doane’s dogs. Mr. Hachey then interjected to ask whether the fence proposal would be acceptable. Ms. Wilkins and Mr. Mulligan felt that it would assuming it contains the dogs in question. Ms. Spring stated that a solution like this should be implemented due to the public danger. Mr. Hachey inquired as to how the fencing would be built.

Mr. Doane outlined how he would do it, and how long the fence would be. He claimed that his other neighbors have not complained about his dogs trespassing on to their property and outlined the issues that he and his wife have had with keeping their dogs in a pen and the issues with solutions that require fencing. Ms. Spring then commented on her concerns about other possible dangers that could arise out of this situation. She has to go by what she is given for evidence. She has seen evidence of aggression and injury from these dogs. Somewhere along the way things have gone bad. Her main concern is further injury. If a fence is put up and the dogs remain contained, that is a positive result. The goal is to remedy the situation. But if this problem continues, action will have to be taken. If this continues to happen, then the dangerousness has to be addressed with stronger terms such as euthanasia or the requirement of an insurance policy of $100,000. But these are not solutions that she wishes to seek. If the fence solution works, fantastic. There was discussion of the insurance option and how that would work. Mr. Doane returned discussion to the issue of notification for the hearing. He again disputed the wording of the notice and asserted his counsel is of the same opinion. Mr. Hachey clarified that this hearing is to determine if this is a nuisance or a danger. Nancy then spoke briefly about how the situation stands. This isn’t just about issues between neighbors, others are afraid of the dogs. From delivery truck drivers to other neighbors in the area. This is concerning. Ms. DeWitt then spoke about the issue of containment. She noted that it appears that Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Wilkins also need to contain their dogs to their property. Mr. Mulligan responded that his dogs go with his wife to work nearly every day from 9 am until about 3 pm. He walks the dogs, one on a leash and the other on voice command. Mr. Mulligan then went over where he walks his dogs and his attempts to avoid any issues. He was open to discussing a fence, but noted this is the first time he’s heard the proposal. But he’d like to see the kind of fence proposed, and noted some concerns about building a fence that ends up being inadequate. There is no point in building a fence if it doesn’t work. There was a question about a recent time when Ms. Wilkins and Mr. Mulligans dogs were last on Mr. Doane’s property. Mr. Hachey broke in to suggested the use of muzzles on the dogs in question to help contain the aggression. Mr. Mulligan felt that it might take care of the problem, but it might also be inhumane. Mr. Gordon then asked one last time for any new information. Hearing none, he went over the rest of the process and the next steps in the hearing.

A motion to close the evidentiary portion of the hearing was made by Ms. DeWitt and seconded by Mr. Hachey. The motion passed unanimously.

Mr. Gordon then went over the potential determinations and motions that may be made by the Selectboard. These include what occurs if the Selectboard determines the dogs to be dangerous, and the remedies available. Mr. Hachey noted that there is a lot of confusion as to the exact issue prompting the aggression and violence. Clearly the dogs need to be separated. Ms. Spring noted that the Alpaca has been lost, which has already given the dogs a blood taste, and there is clearly a pack mentality. Her biggest fear is that a person might get injured. Reports from delivery professionals, from electric grid officials, and others has her concerned. Mr. Doane interjected that the dog responsible for the Alpaca incident is no longer with him. He disposed of that dog, and he asserted that his other dogs were never involved. Mr. Hachey noted the evidentiary part of the hearing has closed and returned discussion to the Selectboard’s options. Mr. Gordon explained that there are seven options if the dog is deemed dangerous and at least one of them has to be implemented if the determination is made. These options move from less to severe: 1) the dog(s) humanely restrained, 2) the dog(s) be confined to the premises of the owner or keeper in a locked pen, enclosure, or home, 3) when removed from the premises of the owner the dog must be securely and humanely muzzled and restrained, 4) that the owner provide documented proof of no less then $100,000 in insurance on the dog(s) for any damage or harm they may cause, 5) that information be provided to the ACO identifying the dog(s), 6) that the dog be altered in some way, 7) that the dog(s) be humanely euthanized. Ms. Spring had some clarification points as to the options to ensure that they were fully understood. This mostly concerned the second and the third options.

Ms. DeWitt asked Mr. Doane how he felt about fencing in completely an area for his dogs like his backyard. Mr. Doane outlined the pens he’s used and the fact that it is not until there are other dogs antagonizing his dogs that they are riled up enough to get over the pen’s fence which is 7 feet. Ms. Wilkins interjected that she agrees that the pen does to some extent work, but outlined some situations where it doesn’t work. Mr. Doane responded that this is why he’s willing to build a fence. But he does not feel that his dogs should have to be permanently constrained to a small pen. Mr. Gordon brought the question back to the matter on hand stating that the question is about dangerousness and a determination as to that. A decision needs to be made, and there is a right to appeal. Mr. Hachey clarified that the Alpaca died two years ago but there are recent injuries to Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Wilkins dogs. Mr. Mulligan noted that Mr. Doane asserts that the dog that attacked and harmed the Alpaca is gone, but in his opinion it is actually one of the current dogs that was responsible and is dangerous. Mr. Doane outlined reasons for why he disagrees with this assertion. Mr. Bright inquired as to whether the dogs are all fixed. It appears that they are not all fixed. Ms. Spring noted that fixing the dogs at the ages they are at now will not change behavior. Mr. Gordon noted that it appears unclear as to which dogs precisely are the aggressors out of the three. Mr. Doane suggested that some barrier be put over the top of his pen and a fence built on the property line. This he felt would work. Ms. DeWitt inquired as to whether Mr. Doane feels any of his dogs are a danger. Mr. Doane elaborated that the dog he felt was a danger is gone. Mr. Gordon returned discussion to the procedure. The Selectboard then reached consensus that deliberation appears done. If a determination of a dangerous dog is found, and one of the seven options is implemented, then this would be done and any further issues followed up on with further hearings. Ms. Spring then outlined what actions she would have to do to ensure compliance with any such determination. Mr. Doane and Ms. Spring then exchanged contact information.

A motion was made by Mr. Hachey to find, based on the facts, that it be determined at the public hearing, including but not limited to reports from the ACO, veterinarian bills, and testimony from those present, find the dogs complained of to be dangerous dogs by reason that they behave in a manner that a reasonable person would believe poses an unjustified imminent threat of physical injury or death to a person or another domestic animal. Ms. DeWitt seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.

A motion was made by Mr. Hachey to implement option 1 as delineated under MGL. This would create a barrier to decrease the probability of interaction and that the dogs be humanely contained and restrained in accordance with MGL. With inspection as appropriate by the ACO, and any further events regarding this matter be addressed as to the other options allowed under applicable MGL. The motion was seconded by Ms. DeWitt. The motion passed unanimously.

Ms. Spring then elaborated on Mr. Doane’s rights to appeal. Principally that means he has 10 days to appeal the ruling of the Selectboard. Mr. Doane was unsure at this point whether he would appeal. Mr. Gordon then thanked those present for a respectful process.

A motion was made by Ms. DeWitt to close the public hearing at 8:30 pm. The motion was seconded by Mr. Hachey and passed unanimously.

Respectfully Submitted,

Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk