HARVARD — During a dog hearing Tuesday night, Animal Control Officers Paul Willard and Ann Bamford presented a case to the selectmen to banish or otherwise control two Labrador retrievers owned by Douglas MacLean of Littleton Road.
The dogs have been running wild all over town, the two officers said. Worse, they’ve killed residents’ domestic birds on several occasions over the last two years, including prized pheasants. In one recent raid, the dogs killed 15 chickens.
“I asked for this hearing to report restraining-order violations,” Willard said.
Since the order was issued, there have been four documented incidents when the MacLean’s dogs killed residents’ livestock: November 2009; January 2010, March 2011; and April 2010.
Locations ranged from Old Littleton to Pinnacle to Slough roads where the dogs killed 15 of the Elkind family’s chickens two weeks ago.
As complaints piled up, Willard issued a second restraining order, with the condition that if there was another incident, he’d ask the selectmen to banish the dogs. “There was, so I did,” he said. “The MacLeans paid the fine, that’s not the issue,” he continued. “It’s up to you guys to decide what to do.”
Noting how far the dogs roamed from home on their bird-killing sprees, Selectman Peter Warren asked why no action was taken before. “This has gone on for two years,” he said.
Willard said he considers it a “serious thing,” to ask anyone to give up beloved animals. “You hope things will get better,” he said.
Bamford confirmed the two dogs were out of control. “They’re all over town, on their own,” she said.
The dogs are not licensed, either, according to the town clerk’s records. But Willard said that’s no big deal and that many residents are lax about renewing dog licenses. “People are slow, we make a lot of money that way,” he said, referring to fines and late fees. But he said it’s likely that MacLean’s dogs were “up to date” with rabies vaccinations.
According to MacLean’s wife, they are, but her husband keeps track of that. He also used to exercise the two active dogs more vigorously. With four kids, dogs and puppies, they try to keep the two Labs at home but they sometimes get out, she said.
Addressing Elkind, she apologized for not returning his phone calls and said she was sorry about his dead chickens, but she didn’t know for sure her dogs were responsible.
William Parkinson’s pheasants were another story.
“These are not the kind of pheasants you hunt,” Parkinson said, but endangered species, some of which “you need … permits to own.”
He has kept pheasants since the 1970s, he said.
Two years ago, while he was away, the MacLeans’ dogs killed two breeding pairs, he said. The dogs were there when he got home, trapped in the cage. He called the dog officer, then the owner, who came to get his dogs.
It happened again. Two dead pairs this time. The dogs were not there when he got home, but the scene was the same, he said. A neighbor told him MacLean had been driving around looking for his dogs.
Elkind said his chickens were in a locked cage when the dogs broke in and killed 15 of them. When his birds free-range in season, a low electric fence keeps them in, he said, but it won’t keep the dogs out.
Unfortunately, the dogs have “a taste for chickens,” Willard said. The only relief would be to ensure they don’t get out.
Selectman Tim Clark said a kennel would be like a prison for active Labs, but whatever fence is installed, it must be strong, dug in deep and attached to the house, otherwise the dogs will get out.
Bamford said she loves animals and she didn’t dispute the owners’ claim that the two dogs are friendly, not dangerous to people. But they are bird-killers, and if the selectmen don’t do something, a farmer might shoot them, as the law allows.
Board members asked questions of Mrs. MacLean and the two officers and debated the issue for about an hour. The selectmen were undecided, however, about rendering a decision or postponing it to the next meeting on May 16. For the interim, Selectman Bill Johnson made a motion based on a “zero tolerance” policy. The owners can decide “how to keep the dogs on their property.” Otherwise, they will be banished. That would mean finding another home for them, out of town.