EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 27, 2013

Residents worry after two dogs attack retriever

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — ATKINSON — When Susan Hancox wants to walk her dog, she drives across the border to Haverhill, Mass.

“It’s too dangerous where I live,” Hancox said yesterday. “I’m scared to do so.”

Hancox is scared because of a pair of pit bulls that live right down the street from her home at 54 Walker Road. On Aug. 6, she said, the two dogs attacked Chase, a yellow Labrador retriever, being walked by its owner, Allison Bidgood.

“It was really horrible,” Bidgood said.

She said the veterinarian said Chase could have died, but his choke collar protected his neck.

Diane Hartmann, whose daughter Melissa owns the dogs, said neighbors don’t need to be worried.

“We’ve taken precautions and have taken them to obedience school,” Hartmann said at last week’s selectmen’s meeting. “These dogs are in a fenced-in yard and they are on a leash.”

At the meeting, Hartmann said her daughter and her dogs are living with them temporarily at 39 Walker Road.

Hancox said she first knew something was wrong when she heard her dog barking.

“I could tell by the way she was barking that something was wrong,” she said. “I went to my door and saw the two dogs running loose in the street.”

She said the dogs first went up to her front door and started jumping at the glass to get to her dog, but then they saw Bidgood walking Chase down the street.

“There were a couple of joggers running by us and I thought they were theirs, but they made it clear that it wasn’t,” Bidgood said. “They started smelling each other and then within seconds, the dogs attacked him.”

Bidgood said the dogs started to bite and rip at Chase. Soon after, neighbors came in to try to get the dogs off Chase.

Neighbor Lisa Pallaria came out with a broom and started hitting the dogs to try to get them to stop. Hancox and another neighbor, Jeff Heckman, also tried to separate the dogs.

After about five minutes, Hancox said, another neighbor notified the dogs’ owner. She came out with leashes and food, and was able to calm the dogs.

Bidgood said Chase suffered multiple puncture wounds around his neck and required stitches.

Atkinson animal control officers were notified. Melissa Hartmann was fined $200 for the attack and another $50 for not registering her dogs. By state law, the dog had to be quarantined for 10 days.

Hartmann also paid for Chase’s veterinary expenses.

But neighbors are still afraid the dogs could get loose again.

Last week, about 15 neighbors appeared before selectmen to see if there was anything more that could be done legally.

“Our concern is for the kids in the neighborhood,” said Bill Kennedy of 48 Walker Road. “We just don’t want anything else to happen.”

Selectmen’s Chairman Todd Barbera said there isn’t anything the town could do at this point.

“The best thing we can try to do right now is to monitor the situation,” he said. “We have to make sure that the dogs are constrained.”

Barbera said the dogs broke through a chicken wire fence, which has since been repaired.

“There’s a level of frustration that I have,” he said. “The last thing you want to hear is that people need to take their dogs to a different town because they are afraid.”

The town ordinance says “no dog shall at any time leave the property of its owner or keeper unless under the control of its owner or keeper.”

Barbera said any changes to the town’s ordinances would have to be voted on at Town Meeting.

“We are going to have to put together some petitions to change the policies,” Kennedy said. “There is nothing on the books that prohibits them.”

Bidgood said that residents were frustrated that nothing could be done.

“The residents all felt that we didn’t really get anywhere with the selectmen,” she said. “As a resident, I think that we would like to have something in place that ensures if something like this happens that the dog owners are required to do something more.”

Hancox suggested an ordinance requiring dogs which have been known to attack be muzzled.

“I even said I’d pay for all the fines, if she volunteered to just muzzle the dog,” she said.

Since the incident, Hancox said, she has seen the dogs contained in the backyard. They haven’t gotten loose, but she keeps an eye on them.

“We don’t want the dogs to be taken away or anything like that,” she said. “We know that they are a part of someone else’s family. We just want to figure out a way to feel safe.”