A month ago, the death decree for an Oak Bluffs dog implicated in a cat-killing incident was unanimous. But last week, acting on an appeal from the dog's owners, Edgartown district court magistrate Thomas Teller spared the pet's life and overturned the ruling of all five Oak Bluffs selectmen.
Unhappy with that decision, town leaders moved quickly this week to challenge Mr. Teller's reversal and urged him to reconsider as soon as possible. Another hearing was held yesterday, but Mr. Teller made it clear he was not in any mood to change his mind.
"I'm not amending any decision I made previously," he told Oak Bluffs town counsel Ron Rappaport and the dog owners' lawyer, Daniel Larkosh of Tisbury.
Within minutes, the two lawyers hashed out a deal that would keep the dog alive while requiring two conditions from the owners: a $500 bond posted for one year and a restraining order that will keep the seven-year-old spayed female named Delilah fenced in or leashed at all times.
The decision comes almost six weeks after the cat-killing incident that began the morning of Dec. 31 and ended a few hours later when an Oak Bluffs police officer shot and killed one of the two dogs owned by Elsa Starr and Casson Kennedy of 51 Vineyard avenue in Oak Bluffs.
The dogs were running loose and ended up in the Highlands area near the home of Sabrina and Louisa Luening. According to a police report, it was the male dog, named Zero, that killed the Luenings' cat, taking it in its jaw and shaking it, before being chased off. A few hours later, after the Luenings reported the incident to police, Oak Bluffs police officer James Morse spotted two dogs on County Road that fit the description given and chased them into a driveway.
According to the report, Officer Morse approached the dogs and then retreated to his cruiser when the unneutered male dog, Zero, growled and ran at him. The officer shot the dog in the head, killing it.
A few days later, Oak Bluffs police chief Joseph Carter called for selectmen to hold a vicious dog hearing for the remaining dog, Delilah. The hearing was held Jan. 8, and after a strong statement from Chief Carter and some emotional testimony from Louisa Luening and the dog's owners, selectmen voted unanimously to euthanize the animal.
But when the matter came to district court on an appeal from the dog owners, Mr. Teller reportedly found that selectmen not only lacked evidence that Delilah was vicious but had also failed to give Ms. Starr and Mr. Kennedy time to prepare for the Jan. 8 hearing.
Mr. Kennedy, 27, who is a boat builder at Gannon & Benjamin, was elated at the court decision, saying, "We were able to make the distinction between Zero, who killed the cat, and Delilah, who didn't do anything."
His lawyer, Mr. Larkosh, repeatedly made the same point in speaking with the Gazette this week, arguing that in all the written and verbal testimony, nobody saw Delilah being vicious.
Lisa McQuade, who witnessed the Dec. 31 attack on the Luenings' cat, told police in a written statement that while the male dog was shaking the cat, the other dog just stood and watched.
According to Officer Morse's report, Delilah did not run at the officer or growl or bark at him as did the dog who was shot. After the shooting, "the second dog stopped and kept back," Officer Morse wrote.
But Chief Carter argued last month in front of selectmen that Delilah represents "a threat to the greater Oak Bluffs community." Chief Carter referred to reports from West Tisbury animal control officer Joan Jenkinson that the two dogs were connected with another cat-killing and had harassed other livestock in the area.
But Mr. Larkosh said yesterday: "There was no evidence that this animal has ever displayed a vicious disposition. The accounts were all speculation and hearsay. That was the town's big mistake, trying to lump these two dogs together."
Mr. Larkosh added a parting shot of his own: "The whole reason they wanted to kill this dog is to justify the shooting of the first dog."
Selectmen chairman Michael Dutton said yesterday that selectmen have an obligation to protect neighborhoods from dogs running loose.
"There was evidence to indicate that both dogs were predisposed to vicious behavior," he said, adding that his board decided to go back to court to make sure that the remaining dog would at least be confined.