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UPDATE — Haley Gallagher, owner of the two dogs that mauled a toy poodle to death did not surrender her dogs to Westford Animal Control Officers on May 3 despite the agreement she made with selectmen. Town Manager Jodi Ross said it is not known where the dogs are. Selectmen have rescheduled the public hearing for May 8 at the Fletcher Fire Station on Boston Road.
Two dogs under scrutiny for dangerousness by the Board of Selectmen, after a public hearing on May 3, will undergo an evaluation by a behavioral specialist before selectmen make a determination on their fate.
Wendy, a black lab mix, and Luca, a tan pitbull mix, mauled a toy poodle to death on April 17 in the quiet neighborhood of Wilson Farm Road where the poodle lived at #16 and the other two dogs lived at #10.
Testimony provided by several neighbors created a picture of two aggressive dogs that were allowed to run in the neighborhood without being leashed, even though Westford has a 24/7 leash law.
[WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.]
At 8:23 p.m. on April 17, Michael Kuklin, a senior at Westford Academy, was walking Lola, his parents’ 6 pound poodle along Wilson Farm Road back to his house when Luca and Wendy came out from behind the house and attacked Lola. Michael tried to save her as he screamed for help. Neighbor Barbara Evangelista of 2 Atwater Drive ran to him carrying a broom to ward off the dogs.
The incident resulted in a three-and-a-half hour hearing that ended with selectmen and the dogs’ owner, Haley Gallagher, agreeing that the dogs would be evaluated and the hearing would be continued. They would be transported on May 3 to the Animal Control kennell in Groton where they would remain for 14 days. A behavior specialist would be hired to evaluate whether the dogs could be spared. All costs would be paid by Gallagher who would be required to make a $1,000 down payment immediately and pay all additional charges for food, care, boarding, animal control costs, and the specialist’s evaluation and report. A follow up public hearing will take place on Thursday, May 16 at 8 a.m. The location is yet to be determined.
The motion was to specify that there would be no waiver of anyone’s rights or interests. Gallagher was allowed to keep the two chihuahuas which live there now, but cannot have additional dogs coming to live inside the home of her mother, Jill Gallagher. The agreement is contingent on all conditions being met.
“In no way is this a determination of the ultimate fate of these dogs and that decision remains in the discretion of the board,” Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet said in her motion that was approved unanimously by Selectman Chairman Mark Kost, Selectman Elizabeth Almeida and Peraner-Sweet. Selectmen Tom Clay and Scott Hazelton left the meeting before a vote was taken.
The public hearing began with Gregg Corbo, town counsel for Westford, explaining how the hearing would be conducted — Westford’s Animal Control officers would present the results of their investigation; members of the public speaking against the dogs would go first; the dogs’ owner and supporters who want to speak in favor of the dogs would go next. Once all evidence was presented, the board would deliberate, answering the following questions: are these dogs dangerous or nuisance dogs? If yes, what resolution would selectmen impose as a remedy to ameliorate the danger?
Animal Control Officers Kirsten Hirschler, Danny Hurd, and John Greenhalge provided anecdotal information on their encounters with Gallagher and her dogs.
Hirshler, who responded to the April 17 call with Hurd, said she and a responding police officer, saw a puncture mark to Lola’s left side. The poodle was wrapped in a towel. Kuklin was in shock, she said.
Kuklins’ parents, Evgeni Belin and Polina Kuklina, and his two younger siblings were away on a family holiday in New York but cut their trip short when they learned of Lola’s death.
A steady stream of Wilson Farm neighbors spoke against the dogs, at the hearing, telling of aggressive behavior and years of fear. Gallagher’s house sits on a corner lot and can’t be avoided when walking from the end of the cul-de-sac toward the main road. Wilson Farm Road is off Carlisle Road with Atwater Drive being the only road off of Wilson Farm.
Debra Towle, a 27-year resident of 5 Wilson Farm Road and Peter Lucas, a 15-year resident of 11 Wilson Farm Road, both spoke of foregoing walking around the neighborhood due to fear of the dogs. They each purchased treadmills instead.
“I recently gave up walking the neighborhood and purchased a treadmill, because to walk the neighborhood you’ve got to go by the Gallagher’s house and it got to be frightening,” said Lucas.
“I do know there have been incidents of dogs barking, growling as I walked by,” said Towle.
Towle related how she used to walk several times around the cul-de-sac for exercise.
“After doing that a few times and hearing the dogs out and growling like that, I stopped walking…and I purchased a treadmill,” she said. “…I am afraid to sit in my yard. I am afraid to go and get my mail….The reason why I wanted to speak is because I feel my neighborhood has been stolen from me.”
Keith Carnevale, who lives behind the Gallagher home at 5 Wayne Road, told of a March 30 encounter he had with the dogs while he was in his yard burning brush. The dogs were running freely in the neighborhood when they approached him.
“At first I tried to get them to come to me so I could see whose dog it was, but then I realized they were aggressive dogs. The pitbull looking dog was more aggressive but they were together and they started to approach me,” he said.
By holding up a rake and yelling at the dogs, Carnevale got them to leave him alone.
“I think if I didn’t have the rake…if I were somebody else — a child — than that would have been an attack. If they sensed weakness, somebody less threatening would have been, in my opinion, attacked by the dog or both,” he said, referring to Luca who appeared to be more aggressive.
Evangelista said she and her 16 year old son ran out to help Kuklin on the night of April 17, but by the time they reached him the dogs had run away. She said she had heard the screaming but did not see the attack.
“He had blood all over his left hand, on his left sleeve. He was obviously very, very much in shock,” she said of Kuklin. It was unclear whether the blood had come from Lola or if Kuklin was injured.
Evangelista’s son ran inside his house to get a towel in which to wrap Lola.
According to Assistant Town Manager Eric Heideman, Wendy and Luca had not been registered with the town since 2017. The chihuahuas who continue to live in Gallagher’s home also are not registered, said Town Clerk Patty Dubey.
Gallagher was accompanied to the hearing by Attorney David McCool of Everett.
He agreed to provide a history of the dogs that have come and gone on the property over the years, upon a request from Almeida.
Gallagher said she is in the process of moving from her mother’s house in Westford to a home in Haverhill. But stays in Westford on the weekends to care for the dogs. Windy and Luca — both rescue dogs — came from the Lowell Humane Society.
Gallagher told of an incident in which a house guest’s dog killed a chicken belonging to a neighbor. Gallagher said the dog was euthanized for killing the animal.
Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet said which dog was involved in which incident is less important than who has been watching over and caring for the dogs.
“What I’m more concerned about is is there a pattern here,” said Peraner-Sweet.
Gallagher pushed back on the neighbors’ tales about the aggression shown by the dogs.
“The fact that some of these neighbors say they’re scared to walk around, I find totally ridiculous…,” she said, adding that the dogs have never been aggressive toward people.
But for Lola, she had conciliatory words.
“I’m very sorry about what happened to Lola. It’s terrible. I feel awful for the family,” she said.
For the Dogs
With the exception of family friend Sean Brine, when Corbo asked if anyone wanted to speak in favor of the dogs, no one responded.
Find Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @westfordnews.
UPDATE — On May 4 references to the dogs never returning to Westford were changed because the public hearing is ongoing and no decisions have been made.
On May 9 Windy’s name was corrected.