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BoH Holds Dangerous Dog Hearing

The Finn Road, Harvard entrance to Delaney Wildlife area where an injured Boxborough man and his dog were met by local public safety personnel .
Nancy Arsenault

By Ellen Oliver

With approximately 20 people, and two news crews, in attendance at Town Building Tuesday night, the Board of Health held a public hearing to determine the dangerousness of several Stow dogs. The hearing was a result of a complaint filed by a Boxborough man after he and his dog were injured during an altercation with the Stow dogs on March 2 while walking in the Delaney project.

David Barr and his border collie Stella were walking at the Delaney Wildlife Management Area on the Stow/Harvard line when they encountered the three dogs. Julianne North of Stow was walking two of her own dogs, a shepherd mix and a puggle, along with a boxer mix owned by North’s son, Jay Rappa, also a Stow resident. All four dogs were off leash, which is prohibited on the Delaney property, managed by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

    After a two-hour hearing where the Board members listened to the victim and the dog owners, the Board declared two of the dogs, the boxer mix owned by Rappa and the shepherd mix owned by North, as dangerous under the new Massachusetts animal control law put in place last October. The third dog, the puggle, did not participate in the attack and was not part of the ruling.
After conferring with the Town’s Animal Control Officer, Susan Latham, the Board members determined a combination of actions the owners need to take to protect the public from the dogs. Those actions are: restraining the dogs in public or in the yard, confinement by a secure fence (with specifications listed in the law), muzzling when outside the home, and obtaining insurance of $100,000 (one policy can cover both dogs). Both parties have a limited time within which they may appeal the ruling.
The Board decided not to require the dogs to be euthanized, an action which Barr had called for during his statement. After the hearing, Barr said he wasn’t happy with the result and questioned the effectiveness of muzzling the animals. “There’s plenty of case evidence that dogs get out of muzzles, number one; and number two, that it makes them even crazier because they can’t do what they were born to do,” he said. “I’m not satisfied at all. I’m terribly disappointed in the outcome. We will appeal this decision.”
According to the statement made by Barr during the hearing, he was with his dog at the Delaney project when “a pack of dogs came out of nowhere.” Barr claimed he could not see North, who admitted she had stepped off the trail for a few minutes.
The dogs began to chase Barr’s dog, then turned on her and began to attack. Barr was injured when he got between North’s dogs to protect Stella. “There’s no doubt in my mind she would have been killed had I not intervened,” he said.
Barr showed multiple pictures depicting the extent of the injuries to his face and hands. He required more than 40 sutures to his face, sustained injuries to his cornea, and will eventually need plastic surgery. Five weeks later, he said he is just getting strength and feeling back in his hands.
The pictures of Stella showed tears and bites all over her body and gashes to her neck, requiring surgeries and multiple stitches. Barr stated that they were lucky it wasn’t worse since several of the wounds were close to Stella’s jugular and femoral arteries, as well as vital organs. Barr’s wife, Maureen, who was not present during the altercation, was allowed to contribute to his statement and she recounted the emotional distress of both her husband and their dog.
North began her account with an apology to the Barr family. “We are really sorry. This was a horrific thing. We are so sorry,” she said. North’s account didn’t dispute anything in Barr’s statement other than she said she did not remember her german shepherd mix Buck attacking Stella, but admitted her memory was fuzzy. She claimed she repeatedly pulled Jack, the boxer mix, off Stella and was exhausted when Barr was finally able to pick up his dog and leave the area.
After North’s account, her son spoke emotionally about the actions the family has taken with the dogs, saying he reached out to the Barr family immediately. He said they have bought insurance and muzzles already and installed an electric fence. “We are not just standing by. We’re not trying to avoid our responsibility,” he said. “We’ve been blown away by this. We were responsible for putting the dogs in that position.”
Rappa explained that during the five years he has owned Jack, there has never been a problem with aggression. “They aren’t dangerous dogs. They are intimately involved with our family, with our kids,” he said, reiterating, “We deeply regret what happened to the Barr family.”
During their deliberations, the Board members considered the possible threat to Rappa’s children living in the home with the dogs.
“I’m very torn,” said Marcia Rising, Chairperson of the Board of Health. “I’m the last person to suggest euthanizing a dog, but I’m concerned about the one-year-old and three-year-old in the house.” Rising asked Latham about requiring the dogs to be muzzled even in the house. “Because there’s been a dog fight, that’s a pretty big leap to say the whole family is in danger,” said Latham.
Board member Gordon Landis explained that within 10 days the Board will send a letter listing their requirements. Either party then has 10 days to file an appeal. In the interim,  he explained the dogs must be confined and muzzled with one adult controlling each dog when they are out of the house.

The Board will investigate some of the applications of the new law in response to questions regarding the fence from Rappa who is currently renting in Stow. The Board members also discussed that applicability of their ruling should the family move, with Rappa saying it is his understanding that the ruling follows the dog.

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