SOUTHWICK — The owners of two dogs who had been cited on three occasions for letting them run loose were called in front of the Select Board Monday night for a dangerous dog hearing.
The hearing was a result of an incident on April 23 when the two dogs owned by Bruce and Kathleen Dzuira left their property on Lakeview Street and attacked a dog being walked Marjorie Arnold.
Arnold described what happened that day, after town Animal Control Officer Liz Bennett told Select Board members why she had asked for the hearing.
Arnold said that on that April day, she, her daughter and her four-month old granddaughter, in a stroller, were walking their dog on Lakeview Street when the Dzuiras’ dogs, a Swiss mountain dog and pitbull mix, ran from behind a vehicle parked in the Dzuiras’ driveway and attacked.
“They went right for my dog,” Arnold said. “We were both screaming for help.”
During the attack, Bruce Dzuira ran from his home and pulled one of the dogs off Arnold’s dog, Arnold said.
Despite Dzuira’s efforts, the pitbull mix named Larry, got free and continued attacking Arnold’s dog.
Without thinking, Arnold said, she stuck her arm into the attack and was bitten. She couldn’t say with any certainty which dog had bitten her.
Her injury was minor; it didn’t break the skin but was raised and swollen.
Arnold’s dog, however, sustained injuries that needed emergency veterinary care, including surgery to repair the lacerations, drain tubes, and sutures to close the wounds.
The vet bills were nearly $1,000, Arnold said, but the added that the Dzuiras paid them, and offered to pay her medical bill, if needed, also.
“They were so sorry,” Arnold said of the Dzuiras.
She finished addressing the board telling them since the episode and from what she learned about the Dzuiras, she feels “completely” safe walking on Lakeview Street now.
Bruce Dzuira said as much during the hearing.
“We’re extremely sorry for the trouble. It’s unacceptable. People should be able to walk their dogs in our neighborhood. The fault is ours, not the dogs. We made mistakes, honest mistakes,” he said.
Before Arnold and Dzuira spoke, Bennett explained why she had taken the step to bring the issue before the Select Board.
She said the Dzuiras were verbally warned for violating the town’s roaming dog ordinance in November, issued a written warning in December, and fined $150 in January.
Bennett said the Dzuiras needed to be held accountable for their dogs’ behavior.
“If there is no acceptance of responsibility, it will happen again,” Bennett said, adding, “I need to guarantee that walker will be safe on this road.”
“We need the board to help get this enforced,” she said.
Bruce Dzuira told the board members that their Swiss mountain dog is considered an “alert” dog. It is not a breed that typically attacks people, but he acknowledged it does bark, and can be aggressive toward other dogs.
However, the pit-bull mix Larry, who Bruce Dzuira, said was a rescue from Arkansas, can be aggressive toward other dogs, but not people.
The Dzuiras had two supporters, one who lives on Lakeview Road, at the hearing.
Paula Palmer described the Dzuiras’ dogs as “full of love.”
“We’ve never had a problem with their dogs,” she said.
Another said, “our neighborhood loves their dogs.”
To address Bennett’s concerns, Bruce Dzuira committed to taking several several steps with Larry, the pitbull mix. Larry will continue with behavior therapy and have a full behavioral assessment that will be provided to Bennett.
He also said his dogs will be secured inside a fence in their backyard with no way to get out. Finally, he said, he and his wife will not walk their dogs on any town street.
Bennett said she will continue to work with the Dzuiras.
Once everyone spoke, Board member Doug Moglin closed the hearing, but the board will not render a decision until its next meeting, June 5.
Moglin participated in the meeting remotely, as he was out of town on a business trip. Before the meeting, he spoke with the other two members of the board, Jason Perron, now starting the second year of his first term in office, and Diane Gale, who was attending her first meeting after being elected to the Select Board in place of former Chair Russell Fox earlier this month.
“This is the absolute ‘worstess’ part of being a Select Board member,” said Moglin, who served as interim chair while participating remotely.
On June 5, when all members can be present in person, the board will vote on who will serve as chair, vice chair and clerk.