By Amelia Pak-Harvey
HARVARD -- Some residents are calling for harsher restrictions on dogs after two Brittany Spaniels allegedly killed a neighbor's flock of 18 chickens.
Sandra Lefkovits, of 18 Depot Road, said her neighbor's dogs got into the fencing of her chicken coop and killed her pets.
"I was devastated. I'm still in shock," Lefkovits said. "I have customers who are depending on the eggs, and the chickens were my pets. I enjoyed them every day and it was just a very shocking thing to happen."
Animal Control Officer Paul Willard arrived to find the dogs in the chicken coop and issued a restraining order that confined the dogs to the property of their owner, Mark Saganich, at 21 Depot Road. This is the dogs' second incident involving chickens. The owner was previously issued a warning to control his pets.
Lefkovits has sent a letter to the Board of Selectmen asking if it might take an attack on a child for Harvard to instill harsher fines on uncontrolled dogs.
"Harvard does not seem to have any protection for citizens against dogs," Lefkovits wrote in the letter. "These dogs roam the neighborhood constantly. They killed a chicken at my neighbor's last summer and got a mere warning."
Under Harvard's dog owner responsibility bylaw, dogs are considered a public nuisance if they kill any livestock that is not on their own property. Dog owners receive a warning for the first offense, after which time the animal control officer can issue a restraining order.
In serious cases -- such as an attack on a human -- the officer might issue a restraining order after the first offense. If the dogs are seen off their own property, the dog owner receives a $10 fine for the second offense, $25 for the third, and a $50 fine for each subsequent offense.
But these nominal fines might not be enough to deter dogs from continuing to kill livestock.
"I wouldn't mind seeing a higher fine system so there'd be an incentive not to break the restraining order," Willard said. Harvard and other towns used to be able to banish problematic dogs until the state declared banishment illegal.
Dog nuisance incidents do not frequently happen in Harvard, Willard said, but typically occur when dogs break into chicken coops and sheep bins or chase after bicycles.
"Most people obey the restraining order," Willard said. "There are some people that don't obey the restraining order, period. They're just acting as if nothing had happened. These people are in the minority."
As of this writing, selectmen will discuss the possibility of a public hearing on the severity of the fine at their meeting on Tuesday night. Because Harvard has not fully adopted the state's most recent animal control act from 2012, it is unclear whether selectmen can issue the heavier fines associated with state law. The revised act requires a $500 fine for the first violation of a restraining order and a $1,000 fine for each subsequent offense, and can also include 60 to 90 days in jail.
But to fully adopt the state's heavier fine system, the law must pass with a two-thirds vote at an annual Town Meeting.
Town Administrator Tim Bragan said this is the second or third incident he has seen in seven years. The town's current fines are not enough incentive to keep dogs controlled, he said.
"Fines are always one of those things that get levied after the fact," he said. "You would hope that you would make them high enough that people look at them and say, 'I have to make sure I take care of my dogs.'"
But Bragan said dealing with these issues can be emotional for everybody.
"Throughout my career, dog issues are one of those that are very difficult to deal with because there's a lot of emotion involved with them," he said. "People who own the dogs are very protective of the dogs, and you have people who are affected by those dogs and they're very adamant about the other side."
Selectman Chairwoman Marie Sobalvarro said she is not inclined to go through big regulations, but would rather nudge people to control their dogs through more onerous fines.
"I don't think there are bad dogs," Sobalvarro said. "I think there are owners who've made mistakes or who aren't able to control the dogs."
Saganich declined to comment on this story.
According to Julie Doucet, the selectmen decided Tuesday night to hold a dog hearing on Feb. 4 and will also put forward articles for ATM to be in conformance with mass general laws on dogs.
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