Saint Bernard’s life in South Hadley Select Board’s hands

  • South Hadley resident April Marion has run into trouble with town officials because of alleged aggressive behavior by her dogs Ziggy, right, and his mother, Tiara. Tiara was put down in May.

@JackSuntrup
Published: 7/13/2017 9:43:59 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — A tough choice confronts the Select Board: Should a 2-year-old Saint Bernard named Ziggy live or die?

The board is scheduled to deliberate Aug. 8.

“It’s not a position any of us want to be in,” Chairwoman Sarah Etelman said, “but, unfortunately, it is up to us.”

The story begins in May 2016, when Ziggy’s owner April Marion appeared before the board for a dangerous dog hearing. Animal Control Officer Shawn O’Brien said he had “multiple issues” with the two Saint Bernards Marion then owned at her house on Silver Street.

O’Brien said they chased a mail carrier, and one of the dogs bit a jogger.

“The mail carrier,” according to a summary of the 2016 meeting, “does not want to even go on the street anymore.”

The mail carrier told town officials she was walking down Silver Street when she noticed Ziggy on the loose. The dog charged at her twice, the second time more aggressively, she said. “The dog is VERY big and was VERY aggressive towards me.”

She used her post office-issued dog spray. The owner came out but still had “a very difficult time getting control of the dog.”

The mail carrier said that was the third incident with the Silver Street Saint Bernards.

At the meeting, Marion defended her dogs, Tiara and Ziggy. Tiara, then 4, was Ziggy’s mom. She did say she felt bad about the altercations.

Marion told the board she no longer let the dogs in the backyard alone. When Ziggy chased the mail carrier, he was excited, not about to attack, Marion said. She said she did not see one of the dogs bite the jogger, but still, did not walk the dogs together anymore.

At the meeting, the board voted unanimously to keep the dogs fenced in, ordered them muzzled and leashed on walks, and required Marion to purchase an insurance policy providing $100,000 in coverage for dog bites.

Fast-forward to 2017.

After two incidents earlier this year, Marion was called in for a second dangerous dog hearing Tuesday, where the Board of Health recommended that Ziggy be put down.

On Feb. 19, a woman was walking her older Akita down Silver Street. One of the two Saint Bernards ran across the street and started to fight the dog. The dog ended up with a puncture wound, the woman’s sister told police.

In May, a 74-year-old man was walking down Silver Street with his wife when one of the dogs bit him, he said. The police responded. Paramedics treated him at the scene. He got rabies shots as a precaution.

Marion said Tiara did have an aggressive history, especially after she gave birth to puppies. Marion and her family decided to put Tiara down after the May incident.

“It was very hard for us to put her down,” Marion said, “but we thought it was necessary considering she busted out of the kennel.”

But Ziggy has never been a problem, she said, despite the mail carrier incident.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Marion said, the town animal control officer visited Marion’s new house and said he would recommend that the Select Board vote not to kill Ziggy on the condition Marion install electric fencing.

The town Board of Health could not confirm this on Thursday. Etelman did say there was some “softening” in the Board of Health’s position that the dog be euthanized as Tuesday night’s hearing stretched on.

In a May 24 letter to Marion’s family, Sharon Hart, the town public health director, wrote the dogs were not licensed with the town and that Marion could not show proof of rabies vaccination.

In a violation of the 2016 town order, the kennel on the property was not connected to the back door and the dogs were not leashed or muzzled.

“Had she followed the protocol that was given to her,” Etelman said, “we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in. And, unfortunately, it’s the dog that could potentially suffer because of her actions.”

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.


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