The Essex Selectboard has ordered a local dog be leashed and muzzled whenever its in public following a trio of biting incidents, including one that sent a woman to the hospital.
Acting in a quasi-judicial role during an emergency meeting Monday night, the selectboard heard testimony from two local dog owners about a May incident at the Essex Dog Park.
Lydia Kenney told board members she and her sister were sitting on a bench at the park when another dog named Jeffrey began to circle them, bare its teeth and growl, causing her own dog to become fearful and hide beneath the bench.
Jeffrey, a terrier mix, then attacked Kenney’s dog, she said, and when she tried to separate them, Jeffrey bit her hand. Photographs included in the board packet show a bloody gouge on the top of her hand and scratches along her forearms.
“It was unprovoked,” Kenney said of the attack.
Kenney’s sister brought her to the hospital, where she was treated for her injuries. She said she’s since had to attend additional follow-up appointments, causing her to miss work, and her hand is not fully-functioning at this point.
Kenney said she wasn’t aware of who owned the dog until it was too late. “We wish there had been more involvement,” she said of the dog’s owner, Nicole Schlenter.
Schlenter, who testified after Kenney, didn’t deny that her dog bit the woman but did say she recalled the confrontation differently, claiming it only escalated because of Kenney’s reaction to the initial incident between the dogs.
“[She] was yelling at me, and my dog does suffer from a lot of anxiety, and I think that triggered him,” Schlenter said, later adding, “It could have been less worse if it had been handled in a better way.”
Kenney didn’t agree with the assessment. “That wasn’t anxiety, that was aggression,” she said.
The May incident is just one of three reported dog bites involving Jeffrey, according to Essex Police Chief Rick Garey, who told the selectboard that his animal control officer advised Nicole not to bring her dog back to the dog park.
The first incident, which occurred in October 2018, saw Jeffrey attack a dog at the Autumn Pond dog park before biting the dog’s owner as he tried to separate the animals.
And police records show Jeffrey was involved in another incident last month, weeks after biting Kenney, when Schlenter again brought him to the Autumn Pond dog park. According to the police narrative, Schlenter was bit herself as she tried to break the dogs apart.
Schlenter said she thought Jeffrey was initially ready to visit the Essex Dog Park after many positive interactions with other dogs.
“Obviously, he wasn’t, unfortunately, and I feel really bad about that,” she said, adding if she could “turn back time,” she would.
State law allows municipalities to order offending dogs be muzzled, chained, confined or euthanized if an unprovoked attack occurs off the owners’ property and requires medical attention.
When asked how she hoped the selectboard would decide, Kenney pointed to these previous incidents and said she has repeatedly thought about how the incident involving her could have been worse.
“What if it had bitten my face? What if it was a child?” she asked. “If there aren’t a lot of precautions taken with the dog… this will probably happen again.”
Still, she didn’t feel Jeffrey needed to be put down as long as the board stipulated safety precautions to prevent further incidents. She asked members to mandate the muzzling, leashing and behavioral classes.
The board concurred and added a requirement that Schlenter not bring Jeffrey to any public parks or areas where dogs are permitted to be off-leash.
Schlenter will now need to provide verification to the Essex police that Jeffrey completed training within the next six months. She said she’s already started muzzle training and had planned to call a behavioral specialist prior to Monday’s hearing.
Selectwoman Annie Cooper commended the two dog owners for their respectful and thoughtful testimony. And chairwoman Elaine Haney thanked Schlenter for participating in the hearing.
But Haney then emphasized the seriousness of the incident and said she’s hopeful the requirements will put the behavior to an end.
“If we hear within the next six months, or after he completes his training, that there’s been another [incident], we are going to have to start considering more serious consequences, and we’re going to have to think about euthanizing your dog,” Haney said.