At hearing, resident outlines remedial steps for ‘dangerous’ dog, but some still wary

Marblehead Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer will recommend that the Select Board deem a Pickwick Road dog dangerous, he said in a public hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 15.

Marblehead Animal Control Officer Betsy Cruger petitioned the Select Board to schedule the dangerous dog hearing following two attacks involving Nala, a 2-year-old pit-bull mix owned by Gina Rushton of 45 Pickwick Road, on Dec. 3 and Jan. 10.

Lawyer Jeremy Cohen pleads the case of resident Gina Rushton to Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer during a dangerous dog hearing on Feb. 15. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Cruger told Kezer that the first incident involved Chloe, owned by Rushton’s neighbor, Robert Barone. Barone, who intervened because his dog’s life was in peril, sustained a bite wound to his index finger, and the dog was injured as well.

Rushton’s lawyer, Jeremy Cohen, stressed that this was not “human aggression.”

“[Barone] intervened to save his dog’s life the way all of us would do as pet owners,” Cohen said. “And when you do that, you’re gonna get bitten on the hand.”

Barone was present on Wednesday, but he declined the Current’s request for comment. Kezer agreed Barone had been bitten because he intervened.

“If there was any indication or record that it was dog-on-human aggression, that would be a whole different context here,” he said.

The second incident occurred along a bike path near the Jewish Community Center on Jan. 10. Cruger said Nala “without justification” injured Gabriela, a dog owned by Swampscott residents James and Karen Gottschall. 

In a subsequent interview, Cohen told the Current his client had paid $1,061 worth of vet bills, one for $741 and another for $320. He added she had paid for Barone’s $895 ambulance ride and a $471 medical bill.

A handful of residents said they did not feel comfortable with Nala living in the neighborhood. 

“I think this dog, even with a muzzle on, charging at another person — it can be a terrorizing experience for that person,” Barone said during the hearing. “There’s a lot of children that walk little dogs on this street.”

Richard Goldfarb said Nala and Rushton’s other dog restrict his wife’s movement.

“She couldn’t go out the door she normally goes through because the dogs run wild,” he said. “This is constant with these dogs.” 

Since the incident, among the action Rushton has taken or agreed to take include:

  • Confining Nala securely indoors and outdoors.
  • Humanely and securely muzzling Nala at all times when off the property (Ruston ordered a muzzle, and it arrived the day after the second bite, the town reported).
  • Providing proof of insurance of at least $100,000.
  • Providing to the licensing authority information that would help animal control officer identify Nala throughout her lifetime, including but not limited to photos.
  • Securing her backyard by installing a double gate in place, replacing all loose fencing, and installing gates leading to the home’s front entrance.
  • Purchasing a martingale collar that a dog cannot slip out of.
  • Hiring a dog trainer.

“I have done all that I was supposed to do without a fight,” Rushton told Kezer. “I am just very sorry for what Nala did.”

Kezer acknowledged the effort Rushton has been making since the attacks, which would be incorporated into the summary report he planned to submit to the Select Board.

“I have a very high level of confidence in the way our ACOs have been doing their functions and how they’ve handled this case,” Kezer said. “What’s important is to ensure that the dog is secured, that there are mechanisms in place to prevent any accidental releases.”

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