Shirley selectmen vote death sentence for dangerous dog “Thor”

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SHIRLEY – Selectmen voted unanimously Monday evening to give the death sentence to a dangerous dog, nearly two months after the pit bull named Thor attacked and seriously injured a 12-year-old girl.

The dog attacked Liliana Pinault on Sept. 19 at a residence at 11 Davis St.

The dog must be “humanely euthanized,” selectmen told Thor’s owner, Richard Testa, of 11 Davis St., and it is his responsibility to have that done and provide proof.

The deadline: two days after the hearing.

The law gives the dog’s owner the right to appeal within 10 days, and Testa signaled his intent to do so. But he could not be reached Tuesday morning to find out if he had filed an appeal in Ayer District Court.

Town Counsel Gregory Corbo, of KP Law, steered the proceedings, providing legal guidance. The first phase was to hear evidence, sworn testimony from witnesses on both sides, including the victim’s mother, Cheryl Pinault, and other family members and friends, as well as Animal Control Officer Jennifer McGuinnes, Shirley police Detective William McGuinnes and Testa.

Finally, the board would deliberate and make its decision.

The first witness was Liliana’s older brother, Finn. He did not witness the incident but described her injuries – deep bites on her right arm and leg – and talked about her suffering since the attack.

“It’s been horrible,” he said, in tears. “She did nothing to deserve this, and it kills me to see her in so much pain.”

Cheryl Pinault displayed close-up, color photos of her daughter’s injuries: gaping, bloody rips on one arm, protruding flesh; puncture wounds on her thigh, multiple bite marks in several places.

“He attacked her viciously,” she said.

She took Liliana to Nashoba Valley Medical Center, then to UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester, by ambulance.

“I had to cut her clothes off” because they were spattered with “chunks of flesh,” she said.

She said doctors could not at first decide whether to stitch the wounds first or take X-rays to see if there was a fracture. There wasn’t, but she may need plastic surgery later, Pinault said. Meanwhile, Liliana cannot use her right hand. A radial nerve was crushed or severed, Pinault said, handing over a medical report. “We won’t know until they operate” in December, she said.

Pinault sketched Liliana’s activities that day, her daughter’s first “big girl” outing with Brooklyn Bagni, a friend from school who also lives at 11 Davis St.

Testa rents a room at the same address, and the attack happened in a common area. Bagni was not injured.

The two girls walked to the local pizza shop then to the friend’s house on Davis Street, where they planned to do their homework, then hang out.

Questioned by the attorney about her knowledge of the household, Pinault said she’d met Brooklyn’s parents but had never been inside the home. More often, the two friends came to the Pinaults’ home.

“They have three kids. I trusted them,” she said of the other family. “I never guessed that my child would not be safe there.”

Pinault, who has three dogs of her own, said she’d assumed the dog that attacked her daughter, who was not only severely injured but traumatized, would be put down.

“She’s 12 and she has panic attacks,” she said.

But the dog’s owner didn’t do the right thing, she said.

The call – an animal complaint – was logged in at 3:32 p.m., on Sept. 19. Animal Control Officer Jennifer McGuinnes responded. The caller said a dog had bitten a child, but it was not an E- 911 call. The regional dispatcher didn’t get an address, only the dog’s name, Thor, and a description of the animal. McGuinnes searched the database and found a match at 11 Davis St.

McGuiness said she talked to a “minor” child who told her that she and her friends were “playing, running through the house” and had jumped over a baby gate.

The dog followed and “bit the victim” McGuinness stated in her report.

Following protocol, she found that the dog was currently not licensed in town, but had been in the past. Thor is licensed now and is up-to-date with rabies shots, as required by state law, McGuinnes said.

She asked to see the dog, talked to the owner and issued him a $25 ticket for the license infraction. Given what had happened, she suggested he consult a trainer and later dropped off a list, she said. She also issued a 10-day in-home quarantine for the dog, as required by law, and released it on Sept. 28.

On Sept. 21, Cheryl Pinault called.

“She wanted to know … if the dog was going to be put down,” McGuinnes said. She answered that the matter was still under investigation and laid out the hearing process under state law, Chapter 140, Section 157.

Detective William McGuinnes, the animal control officer’s husband,  later followed up, interviewed the parties involved and pieced together what happened in a police report filed Sept. 24.

In summary, it states that when the two girls arrived at the Davis Street residence that day, Brooklyn went in first to make sure Thor was not loose but secured behind a baby gate the dog’s owner used to keep him on the side of the house he rented, separate from the homeowner’s family and their dogs.

Thor barked when the girls came in and they went upstairs. When they came down later, “Thor jumped the baby gate” at the bottom of the stairs, leaped onto Liliana’s back and grabbed her shirt. She fell and the dog bit her, the report states. She blacked out. When she came to, the dog bit her leg and left.

Richard Testa testified that he wasn’t home when the incident occurred but he said such behavior is out of character for Thor. Still, the dog “shouldn’t have been around kids,” he said.

He’d gone to the grocery store and when he came back,”it was chaos,” he said. “Maybe they should have called an ambulance.” He saw Liliana’s “horrific wounds” he said, but can’t fathom the cause. “There must have been a reason,” he said.

Thor has had issues around other dogs and although generally “friendly” with people he has been introduced to, hasn’t had much contact with strangers, Testa said. In his view, something set off the attack, maybe when the girls ran down the stairs.

“It never should have happened,” he said. “He’s the best dog I’ve ever had.”

As selectmen leaned toward their verdict, Testa proposed less drastic measures, such as keeping the dog close and under control at all times, locking Thor up in his bedroom when he had to go out without him, even finding a different place for Thor to live out “the rest of his short life.”

Nothing but euthanization could ensure public safety, now that the dog has attacked someone, selectmen ruled.

“I feel it’s not 100 percent his fault,” but the choice was clear, Debra Flagg said, adding that the Davis Street area – in the heart of Shirley Village — is busy, with foot traffic and lots of kids.

Chairman Bryan Sawyer concurred. “The reality is, unexpected things happen,” he said.

Michael Pinault, Lilian’s father, said he’d grown up with dogs and that his family has three dogs now, but there’s no way he’d consider keeping a dog that had attacked someone.

“I’d kill it myself!,” he said.

Given a list of seven possible “remedies,” selectmen chose the last one, to “humanely euthanize.”

Even if Testa were to “relocate…somewhere with no kids” as he’d proposed, that would only pass the problem off, not solve it, Sawyer said. “If we don’t do this … someone else could be hurt,” he said.