ORLEANS — It's not often that the selectmen are asked to impose the death penalty.
“Humane euthanization” was among the statutory alternatives for the board to consider Dec. 20 at a dog complaint hearing requested by Robert Swanson of 25 Lowell Dr. On Aug. 27, he was walking on that street when he saw Katherine Gulotta, of 16 Lowell Dr., walking a dog on a retractable leash.
To avoid the dog, which he said appeared excited, Swanson crossed the street. As he did so, the dog ran toward him and jumped, biting the forearm Swanson had raised “instinctively” to protect his head.
“I consider myself so very lucky and fortunate,” Swanson told selectmen. “I could not believe how hard it grabbed my arm. If that dog had gotten to my face, it already would have been euthanized. If this were my dog and it went after someone's face, there wouldn't be a dog hearing tonight. I would have already humanely euthanized it.”
Gulotta said her husband Vincent and she welcomed the dog they call Reeses as a rescue. “She's not a pit bull,” she said of the animal described as a mixed breed. She said the couple has cared for the 54-pound, 2-year-old for about a year and has never seen it attack someone, adding that she was “shocked” by the August incident. She apologized again to Swanson and said she has since replaced her retractable leash with a solid version that provides better control.
“We only play with her in (our) yard,” Gulotta said. “We take her to Nauset Pet Services (for socialization), where they love her. We do not walk out on the street anymore. I don't believe she's a danger to anyone on our street.”
Jeff Scott, who also lives on Lowell Drive, said he respects Gulotta and her efforts. Even so, “I'm the father of a 5-year-old girl who loves to play outside,” he said. “I want to make sure of my child's safety, my family's safety, my neighbors' safety. I should not have to fence in my backyard to protect my daughter.” Scott suggested the dog go through a behavior evaluation.
Gulotta said her pet “is not a dangerous dog. She's very loving. The people at Nauset Pet Services love her. She goes there regularly for socialization and stays there to board. She's been seen by the vet, and we intend to work with a trainer. There's more to learn about her and more to teach her. We're very aware that needs to take place.”
The first decision for selectmen was whether the animal was a nuisance dog or a dangerous dog. David Currier, who recalled that he had rescued three dobermans (“They were tough dogs”) leaned toward the first option, while Mefford Runyon said that, “by definition, a good bite as opposed to a nip is evidence of a dangerous behavior.” Mark Mathison said he appreciated Currier's view but thought that the “dangerous” designation allowed the board more options. In the end, the vote for that designation was unanimous.
Out of seven possible conditions, the board imposed two: that the dog be “humanely restrained” (that is, not chained to an inanimate object like a tree or building) and that, when outside the owner's premises, it be muzzled and restrained with a tethering device with a minimum tensile strength of 300 pounds and not exceeding three feet in length.
Police Officer Duane Boucher, the town's animal control officer, told the board that he responds to an average of five or six dog bites a year. Most, he said, are in-home incidents involving family or friends. Of the Gulottas, he said, “I think they've taken the correct steps.”