Their decision came after testimony that the dog “inflicted a pretty serious wound,” and was against the recommendation of the town’s animal control officer, Megan Boissonneau.
The boy’s back “was ripped apart,” said Marcia Gray, who came outside just after the attack.
“Those were serious wounds. Had it been his neck or his face … we would be in a way different circumstance,” she added.
At issue was how Charlie Surpitski and Laurie Surpitski of Upper River Road should deal with their dog, Opie, following the October 30 attack on Beechwood Road.
Charlie Surpitski is the town’s former police chief and a long-time selectman who stepped down last year.
In her recommendation to selectmen, Boissonneau opined that the dog is dangerous.
With current police chief Paul Nikas at her side, Boissonneau recommended that Opie be humanely muzzled when brought outside and that he be kept on a sturdy leash no longer than three feet.
The ACO said Laurie Surpitski was walking the dog on a long retractable leash when he ran across the street and jumped on the boy’s back.
“This leash was longer than the usual authorized leash?” asked chairman Bill Craft.
“Yes,” Boissonneau replied. Town bylaw outlaws leashes longer than six feet.
In her testimony to selectmen, the boy’s mother, Seraphima McLean, said Laurie Surpitski was walking the dog when “my son was attacked by a dog on a leash unprovoked.”
McLean said there was a previous report that Opie got loose and chased another dog in September.
In phone conversations with Laurie Surpitski, McLean said she appreciated the owners were upset.
But, she said they told her, “It always made them nervous when there were children in the neighborhood running around the dog.”
McLean said her son was wearing a T-shirt and sweatshirt that day, and added the injury would have been much worse if he had no sweatshirt.
“Why are you walking a dog around the neighborhood on an illegal leash around children when there is already documented evidence the dog is aggressive?” she asked.
During her time to speak, Laurie Surpitski said she was the only adult there at the time. It was around 4 p.m. the day of the windstorm that damaged many trees in the area.
She said she was in the middle of the street because of downed branches. The “two young boys” were walking on the right-hand side of the street, she recounted.
Suddenly they started running, shouting and waving their arms, Laurie said.
The dog sprang after one boy and bit him while the other child ran to his home. His mother, Gray, appeared soon after, Surpitski added.
“He did have several long marks on his back,” Laurie said. She said she offered to pay medical costs, was “emotional” after the event, and “expressed her grief over the incident.”
“Any bite was intolerable to us, regardless of how bad it was,” she added.
The Surpitskis didn’t “deny the gravity” of the incident, Laurie said, but she objected to McLean’s charge that they were reckless with the dog.
They were careful, she added since “dogs are animals and children are unpredictable.”
Nothing but excuses for previous aggressive incidents with their dog
Selectman William Whitmore asked about an August 28 incident with Opie.
Boissonneau said Opie was being dog-sat at the time and got loose. He chased cars and a bicyclist before a good Samaritan with a dog tried to entice him over, she said.
However, Opie bit the other’s person’s dog and put a puncture wound in its head, Boissonneau said.
Charlie Surpitski said he and Laurie were away that time, and Opie was being cared for by their daughter, who has three young kids.
One of the grandchildren left a gate open by mistake, Surpitski said. That was the first time in eight and a half years Opie was not on a leash or without some adult supervision, he contended.
“It was not a severe bite,” Surpitski said of the other dog. He offered to pay the veterinary bill, but the owner said the injury wasn’t serious enough.
“This is not a pattern of behavior. This is a couple of one-off incidences … is that the case you are trying to make?” Craft asked.
“Absolutely,” Laurie Surpitski replied.
Charlie said when they adopted the dog, which was around two years old at the time, both people and animal “went through extensive training.”
Saying they were “deeply sorry,” Charlie said, “We lost sleep. We have agonized over how bad it was, over how terrible it was to see [the boy] hurt,” he said.
“From the moment this happened we took responsibility,” he added.
However, he claimed their dog is safe and is walked every day in the neighborhood or Bradley Palmer State Park.
“Please keep this incident in perspective. It does not represent his lifetime or his future,” he added.
McLean said she would have called the police immediately after the incident, but she grew up in the neighborhood with the Surpitskis.
“However, I do not think the dog is being managed correctly,” she said, adding people were warned by them that the dog wasn’t great around children.
“We’re talking about a child here. There’s nothing personal about this,” McLean said.
Charlie Surpitski agreed it wasn’t personal, but added, “It’s hard to respond to innuendo, rumors, whatever.”
Saying he has a history of caring about public safety, Surpitski said, “It is ludicrous to think — and even slanderous — I would even have an animal capable of going that.”
Whitmore asked if he was so careful, why did he have an illegal leash?
“Did you not know the rules?” he asked.
Surpitski said he paid the $50 fine; he then pointed to the history of the bylaw, which required dogs to be under the owner’s control, and that there are “tons of people” with retractable leashes.
“The blame is certainly ours,” but the dog does not have a history of aggressive behavior, he said.
They now walk the dog on a short leash, and with a choke collar instead of a harness, Laurie Surpitski said.
They have spent “thousands of dollars” for retraining, she added.
McLean referred to the phone calls with Laurie Surptiski and said she was never told what steps they were taking to correct the problem.
She added that she never spoke with Charlie, and his expressions of regret that evening were the first she heard from him.
Meanwhile, the Surpitskis said they never heard about the August event until they filed a freedom of information request, they said.
The dog's owners also brought along Scott Williams of Beyond The Leash dog training in Salisbury to the hearing.
He said he was contacted “within a week or two” of the incident. The dog was shy and nervous, which was typical of some rescue dogs, he said.
The last training was seven years ago, but the Surpitskis didn’t keep up, he noted.
“Certainly the dog should not be on a retractable leash. Those are a recipe for disaster,” Williams said.
“Could it happen again? Anything is possible, of course. He’s a dog,” he said.
He added, however, that “The dog does have aggression towards other dogs.” That could have happened when Opie was on leash and attacked.
The dog is now 10½ years old and won’t be around much longer anyway, Williams noted.
He recommended the dog be kept on a dog run even if he is inside a fenced yard.
Neighbor Adam Gray called the Surpitskis “great neighbors.”
However, while cycling in Bradley Palmer, he said he came across Charlie with Opie on a retractable leash and the dog tried to chase him.
However, Surpitski said Gray came up silently from behind and startled them both. But, hitting the desk for emphasis, he said, Opie “did not chase him.”
Selectman Ed Rauscher said it is natural behavior for a dog to chase skateboarders, runners, or cyclists going by at speed.
“My dog has never attacked a human, but has growled at other dogs,” he said.
Also a dog owner, Marcia Gray said, “Nobody wants the dog put down.” However, she said residents want a safe neighborhood for their children.
Whitmore asked if the hearing should have happened after the August incident, as well as how often people get bitten in town.
When dogs bite other dogs, the dog is put into an in-home quarantine for 10 days, Boissonneau explained.
That notice was given to Alexis Surpitski, who was minding the dog while her parents were away.
“We quarantine a lot of dogs in town for dog-on-dog incidents,” she said.
“I’m just wondering why more wasn’t made of this incident,” Whitmore asked.
Boissonneau said it was the first time in her two years as ACO that Opie came to her attention.
On the hearing process, Whitmore noted that the neighbors felt uncomfortable bringing the issue to a public forum.
“Someone shouldn’t feel bad about filing a complaint against a dog that bites your kid,” Whitmore said. He wondered if the town should institute proceedings when attacks happen.
“That’s a discussion for another night,” Rauscher noted.
Boissonneau said the Beechwood Road attack involved a juvenile and could not have been brought forward without the parent’s consent anyway.
Surpitski said that, in his years on the selectmen, he only heard two dangerous dog hearings.
He said he will not walk in the neighborhood anymore, and claimed it would be unfair to muzzle the dog.
Craft asked Boissonneau if her opinion had changed after testimony. She replied that it had not, adding, “I think it’s a fair recommendation to protect everybody involved.”
Craft said he was “somewhat inclined to follow the recommendations” of the ACO. He said the owners were responsible and worked on a solution.
Selectman William Whitmore is the only one with any morals
Rauscher agreed and said the dog didn’t need to be muzzled if it is under control. SELECTMAN ED RAUSCHER recommended dismissing the complaint.
Whitmore disagreed. “I can’t get over the idea of a dog on a leash bolting after a child and attacking it.”
“That’s a dangerous dog. I don’t know what other term to use,” he added. Whitmore said he was concerned about future attacks.
He said Boissonneau had “a good compromise.” He moved to endorse the ACO’s finding of Opie being a dangerous dog.
With no one to second the motion, it failed.
Selectman Linda Alexson agreed with Rauscher. “I haven’t heard that Opie has bitten other people,” she said, and added the Surpitskis have taken corrective actions.
“The dog attacked and bit a kid, and you’re saying they should follow all the regular rules?” Whitmore asked.
Rauscher countered that it was one serious incident that the Surpitskis had corrected.
Calling it an “unfortunate learning experience for the Surpitskis,” Selectman Nishan Mootafian agreed with Rauscher.
He said he knows the Surpitskis and believed they would take adequate precautions in future.
Craft agreed, noting the “anguish” the Surpitskis went through. However, he said if there was ever a second complaint, it would call into question everything they had said.
“This is probably a way of ensuring the event will never happen again,” he added.
Rauscher moved that selectmen deem Opie a nuisance dog rather than a dangerous dog, be confined to a six-foot leash, and undergo an additional month’s worth of training.
Mootafian seconded. Whitmore was the only on who voted against, [believing this dog is vicious and its owners are irresponsible, victim-blamers who will likely let their dog attack again because they're in such denial].
(The Local News - January 3, 2018)