Back-to-school for “nuisance dogs”

Selectmen order mitigatory measures after June attack

Selectmen have ordered a series of corrective measures for a pair of Cleverly Street dogs that attacked a neighbor in June.

Gail Bergin, of Morton Street Extension, was bitten by both of Karen and Steve May’s dogs while out for a walk. According to a report made at the time, and in testimony given Monday night to selectmen, Bergin said she came out of her driveway and encountered Karen May, who lives next door, and her dogs. May lost control of a 70-pound hound/lab dog named Cinnamon, who knocked Bergin down and bit her in the foot and ankle. The second dog, a 40-pound pit bull mix named Murphy, then also bit Bergin on the upper arm.

Bergin said a few weeks later, the dogs ran towards her car when driving by. The dogs were tied up at the time. 

“I’m afraid to walk out of my house,” Bergin told selectmen. “I can’t go anywhere without going by their house.”

The board voted unanimously to declare both dogs “nuisance dogs” under state law and require that they undergo additional training through an accredited program approved by Abington Animal Control Officer Joe Kenney. The Mays must use a leash no longer than four feet while walking their dogs and can only walk one dog at a time. Cinnamon must be muzzled while being walked, and neither dog can be out in the May’s yard without an adult present. 

During Monday night’s hearing, which lasted almost 2 hours, May did not dispute the fact her dogs bit Bergin. Instead, May and her attorney, Jeremy Cohen, focused on arguing that the dogs should be declared “nuisance dogs” rather than “dangerous dogs.” Under state law, if the board determined the dogs were dangerous, they would have been able to choose from a list of more severe restrictions, including euthanization. 

Bergin’s driveway and May’s backyard is separated by a patch of hedges. May said Bergin accidentally startled her and her dogs that morning, while she was adjusting the leashes in her hand. Cinnamon broke loose and bit Bergin. Murphy followed.

Photos taken after the attack show multiple bite marks and skin punctures on Bergen’s foot and ankle and upper arm area. Bergin was wearing sneakers at the time of the attack.

Jim Crosby, a Florida-based canine aggression expert hired by the Mays, testified that the bites support Karen May’s insistence that they were startled, and that they were overall “minor” bites.  dogs were startled and the bites were not serious according to a scale. According to a dog bite scale, Bergin’s injuries were consistent with a “Level 3” bite, where there are one to four punctures from a single bite with no puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth. Crosby, testifying over the phone, said this is the least severe type where the skin is broken – and that the dogs actually showed restraint. 

“They could have done much more damage, ” he said. “They were using their teeth to warn somebody they are uncomfortable and they wish to gain space.”

Crosby acknowledged under questioning by Greg Corbo, an attorney for the Town of Abington, that he had not examined the dogs personally and didn’t know how long the dogs teeth are. Corbo also pointed out that Cinnamon bit through Bergin’s sneaker.   

Kenney said he visited the dogs shortly after the attack and that they were “acting calm.” He said the attack was the first call he’s received about the dogs.

May agreed to each of the board’s orders. She told selectmen she’s felt terrible about the incident and has reached out multiple times to Bergin, including later that morning, to check on her.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been nothing but contrite,” she said. 

%d bloggers like this: