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Selectmen ended a public hearing on May 8 by marking two aggressive dogs as dangerous, allowing that they be humanely killed, and, under the right circumstances, authorizing animal control officers to demand that all dogs at 10 Wilson Farm Road be turned over to them.
The only problem is, selectmen and town officials don’t know where the dogs are. The animals disappeared after a May 2 hearing when selectmen required the dog’s owner, Haley Gallagher, to surrender Windy and Luca to one of Westford’s three animal control officers by 11 a.m. on May 3.
Instead the dogs were removed from their home, in defiance of the order, and taken to an unknown location.
Windy, a black lab mix and Luca, a pitbull mix, mauled a toy poodle named Lola to death on April 17 as 18-year-old Michael Kuklin walked her around the neighborhood.
How the dogs got out of their house and into their front yard with no fencing is curious. Why they attacked the poodle is unknown. Lola belonged to Michael’s mother Polina Kuklina and her husband Evgeni Belin.
The attack prompted a public hearing that opened on May 2 and attracted an overflowing crowd to the meeting room in the newly built Fletcher fire station. Neighbor after neighbor, living on Wilson Farm Road, testified that the dogs frightened them by behaving aggressively.
Selectmen brokered an agreement with Gallagher and her attorney David McCool of Everett that the dogs would be given to Westford Animal Control in the late morning of May 3 and brought to Groton Animal Control where they would be housed and cared for over a period of 14 days at the owner’s expense. In the meantime, a behavior specialist would be hired to determine if the dogs could be rehabilitated. Selectmen had planned to continue the hearing on May 16 after receiving the specialist’s report.
But Gallagher’s non compliance shifted the scene. The board unanimously decided the dogs fit the state law definition of “dangerous: 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 threat of physical injury or death to a person or to a domestic or owned animal.”
Their second motion unanimously approved humane euthanasia for the dogs.
“I move based on the finding that Windy and Luca have been determined to be dangerous dogs, that they be humanely euthanized,” said Selectman Elizabeth Almeida. The motion was amended by Corbo to add, “and turned over to the town’s animal control office within 24 hours.”
Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet was absent from the meeting.
Corbo spelled out the options.
“The board can seek civil enforcement of its order by proceeding to the Middlesex Superior Court and asking the court to issue an order that the dogs be turned over to the town,” he said. “If the dogs are found in Westford or elsewhere, loose and out of their enclosure, they can be seized by animal control at that time.”
Corbo said selectmen could seek a search warrant should they have reason to believe the dogs are being kept on private property
“What they can’t do is just unilaterally enter private property and seize these dogs so they do either need consent of the owner or a warrant if they’re thinking of entering the property,” he said.
Corbo noted that selectmen had the option of filing a criminal complaint.
“There are penalties, fines and imprisonment for violating an order of the board,” he said. “Finally, the statute provides that if there is a violation of the order, the owner is prohibited from licensing dogs in the commonwealth for a period of five years which means they can’t own dogs for that period.”
Gallagher has two chihuahuas at 10 Wilson Farm Road. Like the two bigger dogs they are not registered with the town, according to Town Clerk Patty Dubey.
The third and final motion approved by selectmen was presented by Corbo.
“I move that if the owners fail to comply with the board’s dangerous dog order,” he said, “that animal control be directed to issue notice that all dogs on the property be turned over to animal control.”
Corbo added that if there is non compliance, town counsel would be authorized to initiate civil enforcement with respect to the board’s dangerous dog order. The motion was later amended to add a sentence: “No dogs are permitted at 10 Wilson Farm Road as long as the current owners live there.”
The outcome didn’t fully satisfy Belin.
He noted that there were police calls about dogs at 10 Wilson Farm Drive since 2012 and, yet, Police Chief Thomas McEnaney never made contact with the neighbors.
But Town Manager Jodi Ross said Deputy Police Chief Mark Chambers had been present at both hearing dates.
Ross also acknowledged that the town didn’t handle dog bites well in the past.
“I already apologized at the last hearing (and said) that we have improved our procedures,” she said. “Where there is a dog bite or a dangerous dog complaint we are absolutely reporting that directly to my office…We realize we didn’t do a good job on that in this situation and we’re improving it…”