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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Dog Attack Prompts Council Action

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, September 14, 2005

An American pit bull terrier
North Adams – City councilors voted to refer a proposal to create an ordinance governing dogs that are deemed dangerous to the city’s Public Safety Commission, and the commission will meet at City Hall at 4 p.m. on Sept. 20 to discuss the matter.

The move comes after several people were injured during an Aug. 18 dog attack that involved a pit bull. Jonelle Shea, 19, Alicia Cellana, 20, Jeffrey Cellana, 53, and the dog’s owner Robert Reynolds, 24, reportedly sustained minor to moderate injuries during the incident; 19-year-old Morgan Maselli reportedly sustained serious wounds to her legs.

The dog was destroyed following the attack after the four-year-old canine was taken to a veterinarian and reportedly continued to exhibit violent behavior.

The dog reportedly attacked Shea and Maselli when the two women entered Reynold’s unoccupied apartment with Reynold’s permission. Maselli and Shea have said that they were acquainted with the dog and had not experienced previous difficulties with the animal.

Acting City Council President Gailanne M. Cariddi asked for council action via a letter. According to the letter, both City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau and Animal Control Officer Peter Wheeler have received numerous telephone calls from city residents who are concerned about dangerous dogs, and state legislators are reviewing a proposed bill that would give municipal animal control officers the power to identify dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs.

“I am aware of a state bill, House [bill] number 3563, that has been proposed to regulate dangerous dogs,” the letter states. “This bill gives animal control officers throughout the state a tool to identify dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs. [Dog] Owners would also be on notice of what behaviors are considered dangerous or potentially dangerous. This bill was presented last year and not voted on.”

The Committee on Municipal and Regional Government held a public hearing on the bill in June, and a revised version may be voted on before the legislative session ends in December 2006. Additional dog control bills have also been filed, according to the letter.

Cariddi said that the city should develop an ordinance dealing with dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs.

“I looked at our ordinance and it’s more of a nuisance ordinance than anything else,” Cariddi said.

Cariddi researched dangerous dog ordinances enacted in Marlboro and New Bedford, and provided information about those ordinances to the councilors.

During a discussion about the matter, City Councilor Ronald Boucher said that one of the attack victims was his niece. The city needs a strong ordinance to protect people, he said.

“I’m seeing a lot more of these dogs these days,” Boucher said, referring to pit bulls. “There are a lot of young kids with these dogs. To hear her [his niece] story; it raises your hair. It’s very, very important that we look at this.”

The phrase “pit bull” is most commonly used to identify a trio of terrier breeds, the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, and the American pit bull terrier. The dogs are reputed to be very strong and to launch unprovoked, savage attacks. People and other domesticated animals, including dogs and cats, have been killed during pit bull attacks.

Boucher noted that the dog owner had no insurance that covered the medical expenses incurred by the attack victims, and in those situations, people are not only jeopardized through the attack but are also burdened with medical costs.

City Councilor Clark H. Billings said that he has also been investigating existing dog ordinances in other communities. He would not support regulating against only specific dog breeds, he said.

Boucher said that he doesn’t want to target a particular breed and added that those who own any breed of dog must accept all the responsibilities that accompany dog ownership.

City Councilor Richard J. Alcombright noted that both the New Bedford and Marlboro ordinances require that warning signs be posted outside the homes of potentially dangerous dogs, and also require the dog owner to carry insurance that would cover medical costs associated with a dog attack. The exterior signage requirement wouldn’t have helped in the recent attack, because the attack began inside the apartment, Alcombright said.

Boucher and Billings agreed that in many cases, the conduct of a dog directly reflects on the dog owner. Boucher said that he believes that canine breeds with “dangerous” reputations may be suitable as pets if the dogs are handled in an appropriate manner.

Billings recalled serving as a city councilor alongside the late Joseph Girardi. Dog issues were often on the council’s front burner during that time, Billings said. Girardi often said “don’t blame the dog, blame the owner,” according to Billings.

Internet searches about pit bulls resulted in the discovery of a multitude of web sites that promote the breed and claim that the media has given the dogs an undeserved negative public image. Pit bull information that appeared objective was found on the http://en.wikipedia.org Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.

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