ORLEANS — The most eloquent witness at last week's dog hearing never made a sound.
Sitting placidly or resting on his side, Bear the dog let his human companion, Peter Christian, do the talking as the selectmen responded to complaints about Bear biting people in town. Just weeks before, the board ordered another dog euthanized.
Animal control officer Duane Boucher detailed several incidents: a man bitten on the thigh and hand at the Pause A While drop-in center on Giddiah Hill Road, a woman using a walker bitten on the calf at Stop and Shop, and a request from the fire department to restrain Bear while assisting Christian with the man's wheelchair.
With Bear, a pit bull/chow mix, quiet at his feet, Christian himself did the growling.
“I don't know what kind of investigation this meathead done,” he said. “He wouldn't even ask me my side of it. The guy (at the drop-in center) walked up behind me and touched his ear and scared him. He turned around and defended himself. That woman at Stop and Shop, I mentioned to her four or five times that he doesn't like things on wheels. It's not our fault that stupid woman couldn't pay attention and listen.”
Christian, who is homeless, said he had “documentation from the vet saying he's not aggressive and dangerous. He is protective of me. It's not like I can get on my feet and fight anymore. Either I have him or I'll start carrying a pistol or a crossbow.” Complaining of harassment by police in Orleans and Barnstable, he said “the problem is (Bear) doesn't like cops, and the cops know it, especially that come stomping after me like Gestapo.”
Diane Hunt, who recently moved to Orleans, told the board she's met Bear a few times and “I find him very endearing. I believe he's a very nice dog. I believe the incidents happened because he was frightened. He lives a very difficult life, and the people that approach him approach quickly and they scare him. The police officers wear dark clothes and they're big, intimidating.”
Christian said a company on the Upper Cape has donated six weeks of training for Bear starting Aug. 2, and that he will arrange to take Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority buses to get there.
The selectmen's first step was to determine whether Bear was a nuisance or a dangerous dog. “All people in town, whether they own a dog or not, are entitled to move through public spaces without any adjustment in their behavior to accommodate any animal,” Mefford Runyon said. “It's up to the owner and animal to be trained and controlled.” Given the reported bites, some of them punctures, “it's a dangerous dog.”
“I don't think we can characterize this dog as dangerous,” said Selectman Mark Mathison, one of Christian's teachers when he was a student at Nauset Regional High School. “Forgive me for this analogy. We all drive some back roads in Orleans and see people walking two or three abreast with their back to traffic. To me, that's just plain ignorance and lack of respect for other people using that road. You have a responsibility as an adult to take care of yourself as well...
“I don't go up to dogs that I don't know,” said Mathison, who does not have dogs of his own. “I check with the owner first. I make sure not to sneak up on some dog and scare the ever-loving bejesus out of him and get bit. I think Peter deserves an opportunity to get the dog trained.”
After voting 4-1 (Runyon was opposed) to declare Bear a nuisance dog, the board considered conditions. “I would like to lean toward following through to have training,” said Selectman David Currier, who has raised dogs of his own. “It's not just good for the dog, it's great for the owner. Educating the owner is probably more important than the dog.”
Selectman Kevin Galligan, who has two dogs, wanted to ensure that Bear continues to wear his service dog collar and related blankets and badges that remind people to “please ask before petting.”
Runyon remained concerned. “We're talking about the public in general, which includes children and people who might not be able to read signs and be as understanding as an adult would be,” he said. “If somebody is injured by this dog and they don't have health insurance, who pays?” His motion to require that Christian obtain insurance did not get a second.
The board ordered that Bear's license be renewed within a week and that Christian report back on the training. Chairman Alan McClennen's last words were, “Take care, Bear.”