ORLEANS – Perhaps Finn won't have died in vain.
Last week, selectmen ordered the 22-month-old boxer owned by Oneida and Michael Lillis “humanely euthanized” after testimony about the dog biting a man at Kent's Point and a contractor at the couple's home.
It was an uncomfortable evening for everyone, made more difficult by confusion over what the town, which does not have a leash law, requires. Dogs must be under the direct control of their owners, but various interpretations of that stricture were advanced at the June 13 hearing.
After passing sentence, the selectmen agreed to have further discussions on animal control issues and to consider options for a dog park.
The hearing began with a dramatic statement by Paul Samuelson.
“I found myself fighting for my life against two dogs,” he told the selectmen. “They would have continued mauling me had I not found a tree to climb.”
While at Kent's Point on May 18, Samuelson encountered Oneida Lillis walking with Finn and two other dogs. He said he asked that they be put on leashes, and that she “did not take the discussion seriously.” He added, “This owner demonstrated a complete unwillingness to attempt to prevent another person being attacked.”
In his statement to the town, Samuelson said he was standing 20 feet from the dogs when he “politely” asked Lillis to leash the dogs. “She refused and told me she did not need to do so because the dogs were wearing electric collars. About 15 seconds later, for no apparent reason, one of her two dogs came running at me and started to viciously bite my legs, arms and hands. Almost immediately afterwards, another one of her dogs began biting me as well.” He said Lillis tried to grab their collars without success.
Having managed to climb a small tree, Samuelson wrote, “I was bleeding profusely, shivering and in both significant pain and shock.” He called Lillis's statement to the police that he was aggressive “both untrue and inflammatory,” and added that he remained in pain for weeks, unable to go to work for 10 days or to leave the house except to have his bandages changed.
Lillis had a different perspective. “I did not see him, but the dogs heard Mr. Samuelson approach,” she said. “He did startle me. He was running or jogging [Samuelson testified that he was doing neither]. He appeared annoyed he had to stop. Percy [one of the dogs] cannot resist saying hello, and went up to him. Finn followed. The dogs were just standing there.
“He demanded I put them on leashes. He moved closer, and there was no room for me to back up. He was getting more agitated. I tried to explain about Kent Point [allowing walking off-leash], but he cut me off. His voice escalated. As I bent down to put Finn on the leash, Finn jumped on him and Percy followed. Percy and Finn saw it as a threat to me. (Finn) made no movement when he was yelling at me, only when I leaned down.”
When Police Officer Michael Lotti arrived, he found Samuelson “standing on the branch of a tree about five feet off the ground.” Samuelson “sustained bites on the left side of his torso, both arms, both hands and on both his legs.” Ten color photographs of the injuries were included in the testimony.
Oneida Lillis testified that Finn was “the first male boxer I've ever had. I was not expecting the exuberance and energy he has.” She said she had taken all her dogs to day care and obedience classes, and that Finn wore a collar “to reinforce behavior should he test boundaries.” She said she was not able to use the control mechanism at Kent's Point.
Further testimony revealed that Finn had bitten a contractor at her house in April after he had asked to see the dog, who was being kept in a pen with the other dogs while a number of workers were at the house.
Another man, Steve Nasinnyk, told the board he had been fishing down by Namskaket Creek last October when he saw Lillis walking three dogs about 75 yards away. One bounded toward him, snapping and barking. Nasinnyk said he protected himself with his fishing rod as the other dogs arrived and joined in. “One grabbed me by the elbow,” he said. “Luckily, I had a heavy shirt on. I did not yell. I said, 'Lady, you got to control your dog.' She tried to get him under voice control. She was rolling on the ground trying to control him, but he was just too strong for her.” Nasinnyk said all the dogs were off-leash. He added that, “Whenever I walk on the beach now, I make sure my fishing knife is handy. I'm sorry to say that.”
The board also heard from Patty Platten, who supplies Mutt Mitts at Kent's Point. “I spoke to nine people who have seen incidents with these dogs at Kent's Point,” she said, “the dogs being aggressive to other dogs. They're concerned about it.”
Tasked first with determining whether Finn and Percy were nuisance or dangerous dogs, the board voted 3-1 to find both dangerous. Selectman David Currier was opposed. “These are special need dogs,” he said. “These dogs and this handler are not good together.” Selectman Mark Mathison did not vote, observing that “Finn certainly appears to be dangerous, (but) I don't know if the smaller female is in the same category.” On a subsequent vote, the board agreed unanimously that Finn was dangerous but split 3-2 on giving Percy that designation.
Before further action, Selectman Mefford Runyon said, “We really confuse this process by calling it a dog hearing. It's really a public safety hearing. The safety of the humans is what we're solely considering here. I don't think if there's any concern that this could occur again that we have any leeway as far as what we should do. What happened at Kent's Point is the responsibility of those dogs' owner and those dogs. Next time it happens, it's on us.”
Runyon and selectmen Alan McClennen and Kevin Galligan voted to euthanize Finn. Currier and Mathison were opposed, with Currier preferring to confine the dog to the couple's residence.
“Percy was a follower,” Galligan said of the second dog. “I understand pack mentality; I've had dogs over 30 years. I also believe that the elimination of Finn presents a further opportunity for the owner to continue training.” His motion to confine Percy to the couple's premises passed 4-1 with Runyon arguing for euthanization.
The Lillises, with the husband's arm around his wife's shoulder, stayed to listen to a discussion of animal regulations.
“I think we have an issue of defining control,” Galligan said. “We really do need to look at our bylaw. It's just not working.” He asked Town Administrator John Kelly to meet with Conservation Agent John Jannell and the conservation commission to identify “a location that would be suitable for enclosed off-leash recreation, the purpose being to avoid what we just went through. It was a horrible experience for so many people involved: the victims, the owners, and even us, what we had to do.”
Mathison said the notion fit well with his longstanding concern about “finding some places where we don't have to co-mingle all these activities that can lead to dangerous situations.” He suggested looking not just at conservation but also the 26 acres at the site of the demolished tri-town treatment plant.
“It's a totally unmanageable bylaw,” Runyon said. “It needs definition. Finding a place [for a dog park] would be great.”