Milton’s Selectboard has ordered the two rottweilers who mauled a 69-year-old woman earlier this month be euthanized.
The decision came after a public hearing Monday night, during which relatives described the wounds inflicted by Scooter and Clarence, two 110-plus-pound dogs that attacked Pauline Kehoe on Eagle Mountain Harbor Road on June 18.
According to sworn testimony, the dogs bit and tore at Kehoe’s neck and punctured her thigh and scalp. The dogs dragged Kehoe across the gravel road, embedding rocks into her leg, her husband, Robert Devino, said.
Statute allows municipalities to order offending dogs be muzzled, chained, confined or euthanized if an unprovoked attack occurs off the owners’ property and requires medical attention.
Reached Tuesday, selectboard chairman Darren Adams said board members agreed euthanization was the only possible decision.
“Those two dogs were witnessed almost killing a woman whose only crime was talking to the dog’s owner in the middle of the road, so what other options do we really have?” he said. “Our first and foremost duty is the public safety of our residents, and I don’t think the board members, in good conscience, could exercise anything else as an alternative.”
Notably absent at the hearing were the dogs’ owners, John Bowes and Gretchen Kunze, both of whom were overseas, email correspondence shows.
Despite this, the board adjourned and entered deliberative session, though Bowes and Kunze asked for a subsequent hearing.
According to the emails with town manager Donna Barlow Casey, the couple didn’t have time to retain legal counsel, so they emailed a statement saying their dogs have never bitten a human.
The dogs have, however, had altercations with other dogs, neighbors testified, and police reports confirm. The latest occurred almost a year ago to the date and resulted in a settlement agreement, documents show.
The matter at hand, however, concerned Kehoe’s attack.
Witnesses said Bowes was walking both dogs, leashed, along the road around 5 p.m. when he encountered Kehoe and her cousin, Carol Ann Ostrander of St. Albans, and struck up a conversation.
Ostrander testified Bowes said he was moving back to the United Kingdom, as he and Kunze were breaking up. The next thing Ostrander knew, one of the dogs hit Kehoe on her tailbone, knocking her to the ground.
“Once that happened, both dogs … were ripping her apart,” Ostrander said through tears. “While I was watching, it was my Pauline who I loved being murdered. These dogs were murdering her, ripping her throat.
“They were just throwing her around off the ground and on the ground,” she said.
Inside the house, Devino heard barking and screaming and rushed out to apply pressure to his wife’s neck. Ostrander called 911.
Milton Rescue member Vickie LaFountain testified the crew arrived 20 minutes later – Eagle Mountain Harbor Road has one of the longest response times – and observed “bite and a drag” type wounds.
“They were torn,” LaFountain said, noting tissue in Kehoe’s neck was exposed. “They were quite deep.”
LaFountain testified Ostrander told her the attack happened quickly.
“[Kehoe] was thrown around like a ragdoll,” LaFountain recalled Ostrander saying. “By the time they realized it was happening and tried to get the dogs off, it seemed like an eternity to them.”
Devino testified the neck wound was an inch from a major artery, and Kehoe’s head wounds were a quarter inch from her ear.
A series of scans, a two-hour surgery and 40 stitches later, Kehoe spent four days in the hospital. She couldn’t attend the hearing due to her recovery.
Devino, who said Kehoe looks like “she was beaten by several men,” said her swollen leg makes it difficult to walk, and mobility in her right arm is limited; it’s numb from the shoulder to her elbow, he said. She can’t drive, shower or cook, though she started physical and occupational therapy this weekend.
“She’s a very strong woman, and it’s a good thing because many 70-year-old ladies would have died under that kind of attack,” Devino said. “She has a very strong heart and a very strong head.”
Before adjournment, Adams asked Devino what he thinks the board should do. Devino said he’s torn since he’s a dog lover; he and Kehoe rescued four dogs.
“The thought of putting a dog down is painful for me,” he said. “But these are also not dogs in the normal sense; these are to me security instruments. These are machines that clearly the way they have attacked all the other dogs in pairs indicates to me that’s what they’re trained to do.”
Devino said thinking of banishing the dogs elsewhere where they might kill someone doesn’t bring him comfort.
Scooter and Clarence are currently quarantined at Pinebrook Kennels in Milton, where they’re reportedly in good health and show no signs of rabies. Records show the dogs were vaccinated but not registered with the town until four days after the attack.
Neighbors also detailed their experiences with the dogs.
Tracey Tobin said Scooter and Clarence attacked her mutt in 2013 after it barked at the dogs by the road. The rotties got hold of her dog’s hindquarters and caused injuries requiring 28 stitches and almost tearing off an ear, Tobin said. She never reported it to police.
David von Holden witnessed this attack and noted another, on Alan Gnessin and Andrea Merrick’s dog, Henry, last summer.
According to that police report, Henry was leashed in his yard when Scooter and Clarence attacked. This resulted in a civil settlement, which requires the rotties be leashed and each under an adult’s control, or else they’d be removed from the neighborhood, it reads.
Von Holden said he avoids walking by the house, where the dogs bark and snarl through the window.
“These dogs need to be put down,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”
In emails, Kunze apologized and pleaded her dogs not be euthanized, instead suggesting they be banished from town.
“I don’t know what happened or why,” she wrote. ”They are gentle and loving house dogs with me, extremely affectionate and loving, raised since puppies as dear household pets. That they would cause injury to another person is shocking and heartbreaking.”
Bowes wrote Kehoe has pet his dogs before, and the incident “was completely and totally unexpected and unforeseeable by all involved.”
The board rendered its decision after an hour in deliberative session. It requires the dogs be kenneled at Pinebrook until they’re euthanized, no later than July 30. The owners will bear all costs, the order says.
Meanwhile, Bowes and Kunze have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Vermont Superior Court – Civil Division, the order reads.