A dog viciousness hearing at the Mashpee Police Department was in session for more than three hours last Friday night, and when the verdict was handed down, Tiny the pit bull was declared dangerous and ordered to be muzzled when in a public place.
Following detailed, and often emotional, testimony by the owners of two dogs severely injured in confrontations with Tiny, the decision was issued by Mashpee Police Chief Rodney C. Collins. Tiny’s owner, Dr. Alla Sarkisyan, and a witness to one of the dog fights also provided testimony.
While Chief Collins could have issued a ruling as severe as euthanization, the saving grace for Tiny was that he was leashed, while the other dogs, a Labrador retriever and a shepherd mix, were not leashed at the time of the incidents. Both dogs suffered deep puncture wounds to their necks and elsewhere on their bodies.
Mashpee is one of the few towns in Massachusetts where the police chief has jurisdiction over dog complaint hearings. The power was transferred to the police chief from the board of selectmen through special legislation in 1987.
The hearing stemmed from attacks that occurred last month and in June 2012.
On October 18 Mashpee resident Lynda Minarik was walking her two dogs on South Cape Beach. According to her sworn testimony, Ms. Minarik was wiping the sand from her dog’s paws before they got into the car and had them off-leash. At that time the Sarkisyan vehicle pulled up next to Ms. Minarik’s vehicle and Tiny—on a leash—jumped out of the passenger side and Simba, a shepherd mix, approached him.
“The owner couldn’t control Tiny. I was told a pit bull would go for the jugular and he did. My dog had to have 15 staples in his neck. Simba only thought Tiny was a playmate. If we didn’t stop him, my dog would be dead,” Ms. Minarik testified, adding that she will not go back to the beach with the dogs because she would be petrified.
When asked by Chief Collins whether she thought pit bulls are vicious, Ms. Minarik responded, “No. It is how they are raised, I’m not here because it’s a pit bull, I’m here because Tiny would kill a baby.”
Wants Dog Put to Sleep
Ms. Minarik, before completing her testimony, told Chief Collins that she would like to see Tiny “put to sleep.”
The second incident involving Tiny occurred in June 2012, when he was approached by Wally, a then year-and-a-half-old Labrador retriever who lives in the town’s Pirate’s Cove neighborhood. Tiny was being walked by Ms. Sarkisyan, when Wally, who was on the lawn of his home playing with neighborhood children, approached Tiny.
Wally’s owner, William Eastman, said he was in the house when he heard screaming and ran outside to find that Tiny had clasped Wally by the scruff of his neck, as children watched. “They never had control of the dog—it was dragging them down the street. The dog is so powerful. I’ve seen what that dog is capable of and it is not pretty. I punched him 15 times and he wouldn’t budge. It’s a machine, not a pet. I couldn’t imagine what he would do to a child—or even an adult,” he said.
“The owner couldn’t control Tiny. I was told a pit bull would go for the jugular and he did. My dog had to have 15 staples in his neck. Simba only thought Tiny was a playmate. If we didn’t stop him, my dog would be dead,” Ms. Minarik testified.
Mr. Eastman was also asked by Chief Collins whether he thought pit bulls are vicious, and he responded, “From what I saw, I believe they are.”
A key moment in the hearing came when Mr. Eastman’s wife, Erin, provided testimony. Ms. Eastman said that she and her husband were not at the hearing to ask for compensation for the treatment of Wally’s injuries, nor did they intend to request compensation. “I don’t want money. I just want safety. My greatest concern is safety. When another dog latches on to another dog who approaches playfully, it is wrong,” she said, expressing concern for the many young children in the neighborhood.
"I want to reassure the public that my dog is not a dangerous or aggressive dog,” Dr. Sarkisyan, a physician in the greater Boston area, said when she was asked to provide sworn testimony. She said that she rescued Tiny when he was 3 months old, and that she has been walking him for seven years in Hopkinton, her primary residence, without incident. In a rambling, often disjointed, half-hour testimony, Dr. Sarkisyan said that she had been in contact with famed “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan and that she planned to enroll Tiny in a socialization course. She also compared Hopkinton residents to Mashpee residents, compared the situation to an agoraphobic who could not go to a supermarket, noted that she pays $100,000 in taxes per year, and mentioned that though she had seen a massacre in her native country, she had never been as emotionally destroyed as she had been by what she saw during the Pirate’s Cove incident.
Discrimination Against Pit Bulls
Dr. Sarkisyan also said that she was concerned about discrimination against the pit bull breed.
On several occasions during the hearing, Chief Collins made it clear to the 15 people gathered that the breed of the dog would not be considered in the decision.
This is not the first time, however, that the pit bull has stirred controversy in Mashpee. In 2009 Town Meeting rejected a petition article calling for the establishment of a bylaw that would limit pit bull ownership to one per home. The petition was brought forth by neighbors of a pit bull kennel that had been approved near Heritage Park, and would have made Mashpee’s regulations among the most strict in the state.
After a 15-minute recess, Chief Collins returned to the hearing room to present his verdict. In a written summary and findings document, Chief Collins said that there was sufficient cause to determine that Tiny is a “dangerous dog,” based on the “grossly disproportionate” reaction he had during the two incidents that resulted in serious injuries to the other dogs. In conclusion, Chief Collins wrote that he has ordered that Tiny be muzzled only when in a public place, and that no other sanctions or remedial actions are deemed necessary at this time.
Dr. Sarkisyan and her husband, Rafael, have the right to appeal Chief Collins’ decision to Falmouth District Court.
Attempts to reach the Sarkisyans this week were unsuccessful.