Fate of dog deemed to be ‘vicious’ is unclear; order issued that it be put down

Fate of dog deemed to be ‘vicious’ is unclear; order issued that it be put down

Record-Journal
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Vegas, an American pit bull terrier owned by Alex Duback, has been labeled as a "vicious dog" under Rhode Island general law. Now family and friends say officials are threatening to have the dog euthanized. | Photo courtesy of Taylor Davis

RICHMOND — The fate of a dog involved in three separate incidents this summer and deemed vicious by a town panel last month is unclear after the owners were given conflicting information regarding whether the dog needs to be euthanized.

Friends and members of the Duback family are rallying behind Vegas, an American pit bull terrier that a town panel identified as a “vicious dog” after a July public hearing regarding two incidents in June. Following an Aug. 12 incident involving a family member, town Animal Control Officer Anne Fisher issued paperwork indicating Vegas had to be euthanized.

Police have since said the matter is still pending, leaving the family uncertain of Vegas’ future.

Vegas’ owner, Alex Duback, of Fawn Hill Drive in Wood River Junction, said he was told “there is no remaining choice” and that Vegas will need to be put down today following a 10-day precautionary quarantine. The dog was quarantined after a bite incident involving Duback’s father on Aug. 12.

“I was initially told last week that I would be able to pay the fines and get my dog back, but when I approached Anne Fisher, she told me there was no option and the dog now needed to be put down,” Duback said Monday.

“I understand there were some mistakes on our part and Vegas should not have been loose, but he did not maul or severely injure anyone. All I want to do is save my dog’s life,” he said.

Police confirmed late last week that Vegas was taken into custody and quarantined for 10 days, a standard safety procedure in any incident involving a dog bite — Duback’s father suffered an injury while attempting to separate Vegas and another family dog after the two began fighting over dropped food — but Police Chief Elwood M. Johnson Jr. said in an email Thursday that no decisions have been made as to whether the dog would be put down.

Instead, Johnson indicated that Duback could have Vegas back as long as he met conditions of “vicious dog” ownership as detailed in state laws and determined by a panel during a July 11 hearing.

“The dog is being treated humanely and cared for properly. The Animal Control Officer, Anne Fisher, is following standard protocol and the Rhode Island general law related to this pending matter, and has been in contact with the owner,” Johnson said. “The matter is still pending at this time.”

Confusing matters is paperwork issued by Fisher indicating Vegas was to be euthanized on Aug. 22 after the quarantine, based on him being deemed vicious.

According to police, the first events in the case took place on June 27 when they received two separate calls in the same day for incidents that involved Vegas. In the first instance, Johnson said Vegas had gotten loose when a family member opened the front door and Vegas charged a neighbor unprovoked, forcing that neighbor to retreat up his driveway.

Later that day, he said, police were again called to the home when a woman reported being confronted by the dog, causing a minor injury to her leg when the dog jumped on her. The woman was treated, police said, and Fisher impounded the dog.

Duback said that during the first time in the pound, Vegas showed extreme signs of anxiety and suffered medical conditions when he refused to eat. Duback said Vegas was eventually relocated to the Cozy Paws Pet Resort & Training Center in Exeter, where he remained for more than a week before finally being released to Duback.

Concerned over the dog’s behavior, the town convened a public hearing on July 11 in which a panel of area animal control officials, police officers and other experts heard testimony from neighbors and concerned citizens, as well as support for Vegas from friends of the family.

“After a thorough hearing involving testimony of several witnesses and transparent deliberation in an open forum, the hearing panel determined that the facts supported that the canine, Vegas, was in fact ‘vicious,’” Johnson said. “It should be noted that the hearing panel did not order the dog to be euthanized, but rather imposed a list of conditions as outlined by R.I. General Law that would allow the dog to live at home while ensuring that appropriate actions were taken to protect the people and animals living in the surrounding neighborhood, and mitigate another situation where the dog was wandering at-large.”

Duback appealed the decision, obtaining a hearing before Judge Joseph Houlihan in Fourth Division District Court on Aug. 7, but he failed to appear for the hearing as a result of a scheduling issue that he said “was entirely my own fault.” As a result, the appeal was denied and Duback was given until Sept. 7 to meet a list of conditions per court order that included insuring the animal, providing proper fencing, posting signs on the property, muzzling the dog when away from home, tattooing and micro-chipping the dog, and notifying police if the dog gets loose.

He said Monday that aside from finalizing insurance, he has already met many of these conditions — he’s also planning to move to Stonington and would like to keep Vegas in compliance with the court order — but indicated that Fisher told him after the Aug. 12 incident that the dog must now be euthanized, an order highlighted in paperwork signed by Duback in Fisher’s presence on Aug. 15.

A message left for Fisher on Monday regarding the order was not returned and Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Duback said prior to the recent trouble, he had lived in Richmond for nearly five years without incident. He said Vegas has gotten loose before, usually only once or twice per year, but caused no issue.

With time running out, Duback said he’s simply focused on one thing: keeping Vegas alive.

“If this had been someone getting mauled or seriously injured, I’d understand and would reluctantly agree, but that’s not the case,” Duback said. “I feel like he’s not gotten a fair shake. I know it will come with a lot of criticism, but I’m willing to accept that if it saves my dog.”

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com


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