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Board looks to muzzle dangerous dog in South Hadley

  • South Hadley Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2022

SOUTH HADLEY — The Select Board has taken action against the owners of a dog that has reportedly bitten and intimidated people and animals.

Animal Control Officer McClair Mailhott Jr. said the dog, a pit bull named Brody, owned by Brenda and Robert Chapdelaine of 4 Miami St., “has been terrorizing the neighborhood for months.”

Although euthanasia was on the table at Tuesday’s dangerous dog hearing, the board stopped short of ordering that the dog be put down. Michael Kennefick, the attorney advising the town on the matter, said that because the dog hadn’t “done significant physical damage to any person or any other dog or animal,” a euthanisia order would be difficult to defend in court.

The conditions the Select Board did impose were the other six of the seven possible remedies available to it: that the dog be humanely restrained; that it be confined to the premises of its owners; that the dog be muzzled and restrained when taken off the premises; that the owners take out a $100,000 insurance policy to cover possible attacks on others; that the owners provide identifying information for the dog to the town; and that the dog be spayed or neutered.

Since August, Brody has been the subject of at least five calls to the Police Department, according to police reports. In an August incident, a postal carrier had to use pepper spray to prevent the dog from biting him.

Less than a month later, the police were called for a report of an “aggressive dog on the loose.” In October, a resident called the police to inform them that the dog had bitten a driving instructor, and when police arrived the dog was loose. That same month, a woman called police to say that the dog had bitten her 15-year-old son while he was riding his bike, breaking the skin.

Mailhott wrote in a Nov. 29 letter to town officials that the pit bull had also tried to attack other dogs, posing “a threat to everyone in the neighborhood.” Mailhott said he has issued four citations to the owners for failure to restrain their dogs and to have them properly registered with the town.

In a letter entered into the public record on Tuesday, police Officer Josh Helems — a resident of the neighborhood where the dog is — wrote that in his 13 years of living in the area he has never encountered a situation like this.

“Most neighbors are afraid to walk in the neighborhood anymore because of this situation, and feel trapped and limited to their ability to enjoy the neighborhood,” Helems wrote. “My wife and I have had to alter our routine with our young child, and have had to warn caretakers to be very cautious while outside as this dog is frequently loose and aggressive.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Mailhott described his efforts to get the Chapdelaines to fence, muzzle and otherwise deal with their dog.

“They can’t control the dog,” he said. “It chases people, it has bitten people, it chases other dogs.”

The Chapdelaines’ attorney, Jeremy Cohen of Boston, said he wasn’t disputing any of the facts behind the incidents, noting that the family has “not done a good job” and that he was “horrified” by the number of incidents. He noted that the Chapdelaines put in a tall fence in early December, and there have been no complaints since the fence was installed.

Cohen did, however, accuse Mailhott of being an “agenda-driven animal control officer,” and a “bully,” saying that his attitude, both in the hearing and with town residents, may contribute to people not listening to him.

Cohen said that the dog was owned by Brenda Chapdelaine’s son, who died in 2020, and that it has been a difficult time for the family. He said the family is now taking the matter more seriously, putting in additional doors, reaching out to a dog trainer and taking other steps.

Speaking before the Select Board, Brenda Chapdelaine cried as she said that the family has asked for help dealing with the situation since the fall. She said that the issues with the dog all happened at a difficult time for the family. She also added that she was wrong to think she was quicker than the dog when trying to get him into the car or backyard.

“We are working on doing these things to make the property safe, to make the neighborhood safe and to make amends for it,” she said, adding that as a nurse who had children of her own, she takes the matter very seriously. “Anything I can do, I am going to do.”

After the hearing, Select Board member Andrea Miles reminded her colleagues that despite the fact that people become very connected with their pets, those pets are animals that act on instinct and can hurt others. She noted that when she was a baby, her family’s dog bit her face, which needed 45 stitches afterward.

“This is an animal in the neighborhood that may or may not be able to be trained,” Miles said. “Our duty is to protect the neighborhood.”

Cohen and Chapdelaine said the family acknowledges that if they violate an order, the town can have the dog taken from them.

“He was laying on my son’s bed when my son died,” Chapdelaine said. “I am not going to, in all my power, allow it to happen.”