Dog ordered euthanized for attack on man, small canine

Owner can appeal decision of Stockbridge Select Board

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STOCKBRIDGE — An Interlaken resident's dog is under home confinement and facing "humane euthanasia" by order of the Select Board after it attacked and injured a man and his dog this month.

During an emergency public hearing with sworn testimony Monday night, the board voted 3-0 to deem Loki, a 5-year-old licensed boxer breed, "a dangerous dog," according to state regulations. Stockbridge Police Sgt. Kirk Nichols, the investigating officer, provided the board a detailed account of the June 8 attack on Gary Lazarus and Gracie, his leashed 12-pound Jack Russell terrier-beagle mix.

Lazarus, a Beachwood section resident, was taken by ambulance to Berkshire Medical Center and later was transferred to Albany Medical Center in New York because of the severity of his injuries. Lazarus said the unprovoked attack in the vicinity of 4 Interlaken Crossroad lasted several minutes.

Nichols said the dog has been the culprit in previous incidents involving neighborhood residents.

"This Interlaken village neighborhood lives in fear of this dog," Nichols testified. "Everyone I've spoken to has changed their life patterns to avoid contact with the dog. People are afraid of leaving their own property to not subject themselves to this dog's violence."

Loki's owner, Christopher H.L. Owen, has 10 days to appeal the Select Board's ruling through Southern Berkshire District Court. A magistrate could uphold the euthanasia order, or reverse it and schedule a new hearing were it found that "the order was made without proper cause or in bad faith."

Meanwhile, citing state law, the board ordered 24-hour home confinement, amounting to house arrest, for Loki, other than supervised "bathroom breaks" on a leash accompanied by his owner. The dog had been on a temporary quarantine under the same restrictions imposed by Animal Control Officer John Drake.

"I'm incredibly upset by this," Owen told the board. "I actually went back into the house shaking."

But he said the Select Board hearing "could be one person's word against another, or a misunderstanding. But I'm not denying, I was absolutely devastated. I was appalled, I saw his [Lazarus'] bandage and said, `Oh, my God, I can't believe this.' "

"Much of what the officer said is absolutely true," Owen said. "There are a couple of misunderstandings, one that he knows of, and he wouldn't let me finish a sentence on two occasions, shouting at me. I agree with him being upset, and I swear on the Bible that I was totally unaware of Mr. Lazarus' wounds. This is my word, I'm telling you the truth, and it wasn't the length of time described."

Owen also maintained that "this dog loves people."

"If I let him loose in this room, he'd be wagging his tail and licking everybody's face," he said. "The idea of euthanizing him would have very difficult emotional issues for me, as you can imagine for everyone here who has a dog. Loki is not a danger to people."

But Nichols asserted that "allowing this dog to continue to remain in our community makes our community less safe."

"In my heart, I believe this animal is incredibly dangerous, and you have an owner that is not even following basic quarantine; we're really setting ourselves up for something terrible in this town," Nichols said. "Allowing this dog to be present in our town is a huge danger and a risk."

During the 70-minute hearing, attended by more than 15 Interlaken neighborhood residents, Nichols summarized the 85-page report he compiled on Loki's record, in effect a "rap sheet," detailing previous reported incidents. The report included color, close-up photos of Lazarus' injuries that, Nichols warned, are "very graphic."

When Lazarus, accompanied by his husband, Monte Levin, came into the Stockbridge police station June 10 to file a report on the attack, his right arm was in a sling, bandaged from his hand to his shoulder, Nichols said.

What happened

While on Interlaken Crossroad, Lazarus, walking his leashed dog, Gracie, was attacked by the boxer, "charging him from the rear, rather viciously, ripping into his arm, his flesh, for several minutes" as he lifted his small dog into his arms to protect her from Loki, according to the police report.

When Owen emerged from his home, he told Lazarus to kick the boxer, whereupon the boxer "bit into his thigh and eventually jumped up, knocked him down to the street on his back with his dog on his shoulder," said Nichols.

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Within several minutes, Owen grabbed his dog by the collar, ending the attack. But Gracie had been bitten, and one of her legs was wounded.

As Lazarus retreated, Owen offered him a bandage. The report includes photos showing a trail of blood, as well as close-up views of Lazarus' wounds, including a 3-inch forearm laceration and multiple deep puncture wounds to his arm.

Testifying about the attack, Lazarus said he had not approached Owen's property while he was walking his dog.

"I turned around, walked away, and suddenly, behind me, I had the sense of the dog rushing me, and my instinct immediately was to snatch my dog up into my arms," Lazarus said. "I protected her, because she would have been dead. There's no question about it."

Adding that "the pain was excruciating, the thing I find most reprehensible is that here is someone who owns a dog he knows has a propensity to violence, and did not do what he needed to do to protect that dog, and to protect us," Lazarus said.

After treatment at BMC's Emergency Department, the hospital "realized they were not able to fully and appropriately treat the wounds," Nichols said, so Lazarus was taken by ambulance to Albany Medical Center. His dog was treated by a local veterinarian for her wounds.

After the attack, Drake, the animal control officer, placed Loki on a 10-day quarantine, including home confinement, except for "restroom" breaks while leashed.

Nichols pointed out that Loki, a patient at Valley Veterinary Service in Lee, is flagged as "an aggressive dog" in the practice's records, which also include a notation that Loki bit a dog sitter in January 2018, as well as an entry about an attack by the boxer on a dog in Pennsylvania in 2016.

The police report includes a log entry on an attack by Loki on a Stockbridge neighbor in 2015. A more recent incident involving a bicyclist was reported by Lazarus, although there is no record of a complaint to police.

Several of Owen's neighbors reported incidents involving Loki, including an attack on a resident's flock of chickens, Nichols noted in his report, though they did not want to be identified publicly. Others, who were identified, described a series of previous aggressive actions by Loki.

Reports and emails received from residents are attached to Nichols' report, showing "a history of dangerous dogs owned by Mr. Owen," Nichols said. Owen has owned six boxers before his current dog — all named Loki.

The police sergeant also told the Select Board that when he first interviewed Owen on June 11 about the most recent incident, "he was dismissive of the entire issue, and he placed fault and blame on Mr. Lazarus for the attack on his dog. Mr. Owen stated that Mr. Lazarus would not have been attacked by Mr. Owen's dog if he had simply just not picked up his own dog."

"[Owen] was only aware of one attack, and it wasn't that bad," Nichols testified. "He described the attack as just a pinprick in the arm of a gentleman that was walking his dog."

Nichols acknowledged that "I lost my temper a little bit" when Owen told him that, according to his insurance company, "Mr. Lazarus' dog was actually the dog who damaged Mr. Lazarus' arm while attempting to fight Loki. I challenged Mr. Owen that a dog of that size, a 12-pound beagle-Jack Russell mix, wasn't capable of" inflicting the injuries suffered by Lazarus.

"I said I was tired of Mr. Owen blaming the attack on the victim, and I removed myself from the property," Nichols said.

Opening his sworn testimony, Owen said he had been advised by two attorneys that he did not need legal representation at the hearing "because all we're doing at this point is setting up parameters of what the next step is, so I'm in no position to represent myself. I can't defend myself. I'm not a lawyer. I'm an architect."

In response to statements that he had belittled Lazarus' injuries as "a pinprick," Owen said, "That's all I saw. Otherwise, I would have called 911 immediately."

He also stated that Loki has been "halfway-trained" as a therapy dog.

"I've had a history, not in the last 15 years, of depression and anxiety. ... I've always had a dog as company," Owen said.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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