Major Richard Schmitter, RISPCA Special Agent Joseph Warzycha and Ariel Fisher also from RISPCA, made up the panel of arbitrators that presided over the Vicious Dog hearing held at the Town Hall Annex on Tuesday morning.
The hearing was between Michael and Karen Theriault, 163 Gervais St. and Michael Santilli, who had been visiting Theriault's neighbor across the street on July 16 when his dog, Fuzzy, a black one-year-old Maltese mix was attacked and killed by Theriault's seven-year-old American Bulldog mix, Kane.
According to the testimony of Santilli's nephew, PJ, he had been walking Fuzzy around the yard on a leash during a backyard party when he spotted Kane running across the street, growling. He stated that Kane seized Fuzzy in his mouth and began shaking and biting him. PJ then kicked Kane and attempted to grab the Maltese from his mouth when Theriault ran over, pulled Kane away and ordered him to drop the dog.
During Theriault's testimony, he stated that he agreed with PJ's recollection of the incident and explained that when he had opened his door, Kane pushed passed him and ran across the street, almost getting hit by a car in the process. Theriault explained that Kane had been unleashed around other dogs in his backyard before without a problem and also gets along well with the family cat. He also explained that the dog had come in contact with other dogs while on walks in the past without incident and that this was very out of character for Kane based on past behavior.
"We are totally sorry, I know it was a bad thing that happened," said Theriault. "He (Kane) was raised as part of our family for seven years and we've never even had so much as a barking report. Some people were even surprised that we had the dog. It's a tragic tragic thing and we'll do anything in our ability to help rectify the problem."
Santilli expressed his concern for his and other children in the area in regards to Kane possibly getting out again in the future and was adamant that proper steps be taken to ensure it does not happen again.
"We're here for public safety, not about what-ifs," said Warzycha after Santilli mentioned several possible scenarios involving another incident with Kane. "I understand the what-if, but that's not what we are here for today. I've seen very irresponsible dog owners and very responsible dog owners and it can happen. I know there is a lot of emotion here and that the dog died which is very unfortunate, but there are no past reports about the dog, so there's no evidence that this is an irresponsible dog owner."
After testimony, the panel deliberated on multiple actions that may be required of the Theriaults within 30 days:
- Kane was deemed vicious based on the state's definition.
- The Theriaults are required to take out a vicious dog insurance policy, with a minimum of $100,000 in coverage.
- Kane has to be microchipped.
- Warning signs stating "vicious dog" must be placed on the property.
- The police must be notified if Kane gets loose.
- If the dog is taken off the property he must wear a leash and muzzle. On the property, he needs to stay fenced in. (Coventry Animal Control will inspect the fence to be sure it meets criteria.)
- If the Theriaults move away, they must notify Coventry as well as any town they move to.
- The Theriaults may not sell or give away the dog, as the requirements cannot transfer to another owner. If the family cannot keep the dog, he will be euthanized.
- The panel voted 2-1 against the most restrictive requirement, a six-sided enclosure that the dog must be kept in at all times when outside.
Until these requirements are met, Kane is on home confinement and can only be brought outdoors on a leash to use the bathroom.
"We will get to work on these requirements right away," said Theriault. "And if any of our neighbors would like to come to our home to make sure that we have done all of them, they are more than welcome."