TEWKSBURY — A public hearing was held on Jan. 15, 2021 regarding a dangerous dog. According to Animal Hearing Officer Sergeant Patrick Harrington, hearings such as this are typically undertaken as a result of an action by the Animal Control Officers. While the hearings are not frequent, they do happen, and are typically necessary when a pet owner is unable or unwilling to comply with recommendations set forth by the Animal Control officers.
Sometimes dangerous animal hearings involve a pet that has harmed a resident, but in this instance, the pet, a dog, has been attacking other dogs.
Once an animal has been deemed dangerous under MGL 140 section 136A, certain requirements are put in place to protect the animal and the public, and in this case, other animals.
The orders that were put in place for this hearing involved a dog named Linus, owned by Marie Angileri at 1083 Shawsheen St. The dog, according to the hearings officer, has four incidents in which the animal attacked another dog, unprovoked.
According to the public hearing notice, a dangerous dog is “a dog that either, (i) without justification, attacks a person or domestic animal causing physical injury or death; or (ii) behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would believe poses an unjustified imminent thread of physical injury or death to a person or to a domestic or owned animal.”
Harrington said that the Animal Control officers try to work with the pet owner to educate them about the best ways to handle animals, but it is not always successful. In the case of the findings against the animal at this hearing, several orders were put in place; the dog must be restrained on a leash to not exceed three feet with a minimum strength of 300 pounds, proof of insurance, or the attempt to secure insurance, of not less than $100,000 against injury by the pet, the dog must be securely and humanely muzzled using an approved restraint, the dog must be confined indoors or always on the leash, even in a fenced in yard, and the dog and owner must schedule training at an approved, licensed training facility.
Harrington said the law does allow for animals in certain circumstances to be euthanized.
Harrington said that everyone involved has the best interest of the dog in mind, but it is ultimately the owner who must take responsibility for an aggressive animal. According to Animal Control Officer Christine Gualtieri, pet owners must comply by the town’s leash law no matter where they are in the community.
“Even on the trails, a dog must be on leash at all times,” Gualtieri said.
The officer explained that some dogs are not aggressive toward humans but do react to other dogs or animals, and owners must be trained and be able to handle their dogs. Gualtieri cited several examples of dogs off leash on trails in town ending in tragedy, including dogs chasing deer or horses and ultimately being hit by cars.
In other instances, coyotes can attack dogs, and the result is often gruesome.
“We are coming into coyote mating season and all dog owners should remember to keep their animals on leash,” Gualtieri said.
Gualtieri recommends a few restraints that are effective and humane, including a basket muzzle, a “Y” leash, a harness, gentle leaders, and of course, training. Also, Gualtieri said a dog that has been bitten by another dog off leash has to be quarantined because the aggressor dog may not be with its owner and therefore the victim may not know of the animal’s rabies vaccination history.
“It can be up to four months in quarantine,” said Gualtieri.
Knowing a dog’s history is also important. With the large number of rescue animals being adopted due to COVID-19, Gualtieri indicated that it is not always clear how a dog will react in all circumstances, so training and appropriate restraints are a must.
“At the end of the day, they are animals, and they act on instinct,” she said.
Gualtieri said some owners feel there is a stigma with restraints, but she said it shows that an owner has respect for the animal and for others. A muzzle can also prevent a dog from eating things that would be harmful, according to the Animal Humane Society, saving heartache and expensive vet bills for the owner.
In addition, Gualtieri said that often the officers receive calls about a dog that is perceived to be dangerous, but is not.
“A fenced-in dog barking is not necessarily dangerous, it is just acting naturally,” said Gualtieri, but she explained that residents should feel free to call the ACO number with any concerns.
“We are happy to make recommendations for pet owners to handle their dogs safely, and to check on any situation that may be of concern,” said Gualtieri.
And, the officers should be informed of any incident involving aggression by an animal in the community. The Animal Control officers may be reached at 978-640-4395.