April 05, 2020

Bill would track offending canines> Towns sometimes banish vicious dogs

BOSTON — That menacing dog at the end of the street may someday have a rap sheet.

Under a new bill reviewed by a legislative committee on Monday, dog owners who move out of town because their pet has been banned will be required to notify authorities in their new town about their dogs’ past bad acts.

Rep. David Tuttle, R-Barre, who proposed the bill, said the purpose is to let dog catchers know when they respond to a complaint how much bite might be behind that bark.

He said the bill would also help protect banished dogs from being abandoned by requiring their owners to report to the banishing town where they are taking the dog.

“Under the current law, people are just taking the tags off of the dogs and dumping them by the side of the road,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle said his bill does not include penalties for failing to report the dogs, but says he wants to add them.

Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, chairman of the Joint Committee on Counties, said the bill needs more research because it raises the fundamental legal question of whether towns are allowed to ban dogs in the first place.

Cabral said town selectmen are currently given the option to order that troublesome dogs be “disposed.”

“Towns do not have the statutory right to banish a dog even though they’ve been doing it for many years,” he said. “Disposal, to put it a diplomatic way, is euthanization.”

Sheryl Parker, animal control officer for the central Massachusetts town of North Brookfield, said her town is not alone in using banishment as an alternative to euthanizing dogs.

She said when she is unable to convince owners to control violent dogs or keep them from getting loose, she appeals to the town selectmen for final say.

“I’ve been told to my face by people, `I moved out to this small town so I can let my dog run around and you’re not going to tell me what I can do,”‘ Parker said.

While all dog owners are required to register their pets with their town, problems have cropped up with tracking banished animals from town to town, she said.

North Brookfield selectmen ordered two Rottweilers out of town this fall who were terrorizing elderly residents and children at a summer camp outside Lake Lashaway, Parker said. Weeks later, the dogs showed up abandoned in Worcester.

Last winter, a pack of four dogs, including a pit bull, were caught chasing cows in North Brookfield. Parker said they had been banished from Ware.

Kara Holmquist of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the committee the MSPCA supports the bill because it holds pet owners accountable by letting them know that towns are watching them.

“It just makes sense,” she said.

The bill was referred for study.

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