Dog owner appeals euthanasia order

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A local pit bull owner is appealing a euthanasia order handed down by the Colchester Selectboard earlier this year, a determination that came after board members heard claims the dog viciously attacked a young Milton girl in February.

Court documents show the dog’s owner, Colchester resident Jason Hathaway, will represent himself in a not-yet-scheduled hearing before a Vermont Superior Court judge in the Chittenden Civil Division. Attorney Brian Monaghan will represent the selectboard.

In the filing, Hathaway describes the 5-year-old black Labrador-pit bull mix, Marley, as “a part of the community,” and said his family would suffer “a great deal of mental stress” if the dog was put down.

Hathaway delivered a similar argument during a nearly four-hour judicial-style hearing before the selectboard on March 15 at the town offices.

Those proceedings were prompted by a complaint from Raymond Giroux of Milton, who said his 11-year-old daughter, Shyanne, was bitten in the face multiple times during a birthday party for Jason Hathaway’s daughter at their Prim Rd. residence on February 11.

Giroux presented three letters of support and asked the board to order the dog be put down, one option Vermont law affords selectboards in vicious dog cases.

Graphic photos taken by Giroux just after the incident show bloody wounds on Shyanne’s forehead, cheek and lower jawbone. The gashes required 27 stitches to mend, Giroux said, and have left likely permanent scarring.

After calling a half-dozen witnesses, including Giroux and multiple Colchester police officers, and referencing several other police reports involving Marley, town attorney Monaghan recommended the board “humanely destroy” the dog.

Giroux grew emotional recounting when Shyanne called him “sniffling” a couple hours after arriving at the party, asking to be picked up because she had gotten “too close to the dog.”

When he arrived, he said Shyanne told him she’d ducked into a side room to retrieve her cell phone from her overnight bag. When she bent down to unzip the bag, Giroux said, Marley pounced.

Both at the hearing and in his appeal, Hathaway has never disputed Giroux’s claims but argued Shyanne provoked Marley. The pit bull was shot in the leg by a neighbor a few weeks prior, Hathaway said, and was still nursing his injury.

He said his son, the only other person in the room when Shyanne was bitten, saw her inadvertently step on Marley’s injured foot before attempting to retrieve her phone.

At the hospital, Shyanne told police she didn’t touch the dog but remembered Hathaway telling the visitors to “be careful around the dog because it had foot problems.”

Those claims were repeated in the appeal.

“As she bent down to kiss him on his head, that’s when Marley growled and bit Cheyanne [sic],” it reads.

In March, Hathaway asked the board to consider a behavioral assessment provided by an area dog trainer, delivered via animal control officer Stephanie Gingras.

The trainer warned the owners to keep Marley away from children other than their own, but said he believed the dog could “learn to function normally” with people that are past adolescence.

“To put it blatantly, the owners need to become more educated in dog behavior and dog body language,” the trainer wrote. “My main concern is not whether or not Marley could function appropriately in this domesticated life, but rather whether or not the current owners can provide him the structure he needs to be set up for success.”

Hathaway attached the assessment to his appeal, stating the selectboard decided to have the dog euthanized “despite knowing that Marley is trainable.”

In its decision, the board noted the trainer’s assessment but also cited renowned animal behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar’s “dog bite scale,” rating Shyanne’s injury at level five of six, with the latter being death.

“The board has no doubt that the owners and their children love this dog and that he is a member of their family,” the subsequent verdict read. “However, the board must consider the overriding interest of the public’s safety.”

In his appeal, Hathaway listed five points that he and his family “understand and take full responsibility” for, including Marley’s aggressive behavior, that he should be muzzled before leaving the house and that he should be confined to an “off limits” area when guests visit.

An emergency health order put in place before the selectboard hearing required Marley quarantined at Hathaway’s residence. It will remain in effect through the appeal process, the board noted last Tuesday.