Marblehead Dog Nala Designated "Dangerous" at Hearing
Today, February 15, 2023, Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer III presided over a Dangerousness Hearing regarding Nala, a bulldog mix registered to Marblehead resident Gina Rushton of 45 Pickwick Road. As Marblehead Beacon reported yesterday, several instances of violence have been attributed both to Nala and to her bulldog counterpart Boozer, who is also registered to Rushton.
The hearing opened with testimony from Betsy Cruger, who serves as Marblehead’s Animal Control Officer. Cruger’s testimony recommended to Kezer that Nala should be classified as a dangerous dog under Massachusetts General Law Chater 140 Section 157. Cruger also recommended the following: that Nala be humanely restrained, that Nala be confined securely indoors or outdoors, that Nala be securely and humanely muzzled and placed on a three-foot leash with a minimum force capability of 300 pounds while not on the premises of the residence, that Nala’s owner purchase insurance with coverage of a minimum of $100,000, and that Nala’s owner provide information such as photos and microchip data that would allow for identification of the dog. Cruger mentioned that Rushton had complied with all of the above requests without a legal obligation to do so, with the exception of the muzzling of Nala. She included in her testimony that Rushton had paid all of the medical bills for those attacked by her dogs.
Following Cruger’s testimony, Bobby Barone, a purported victim of an attack by Nala and Boozer, spoke about his own experience with the animals, alleging that he had been bitten in the finger by one of the two, requiring emergency treatment and leaving him with a lack of feeling in the tip of the finger to this day. He went on to suggest that “dogs of that caliber” should not be present in residential neighborhoods such as Pickwick Road, further adding that even were Nala to be muzzled, an attack by her would be a “terrorizing experience.”
Next to speak was Richard Goldfarb, a neighbor of the dogs. While not a victim of an attack himself, Goldfarb spoke about experiences his neighbors have had with the dogs and his own fear of them. He additionally mentioned that he had been concerned about an attack while working on a boat in his front yard and jumped into the boat to protect himself. He went on to suggest that one woman who lived on the street felt compelled to use a different door to exit her home out of an abundance of caution regarding the dogs. He also included in his testimony that he knows that there are more than 50 small children on the street and that he feels that a fatal attack may happen should any of them to come in contact with Nala.
Kezer summarized the written statement of a victim of an attack who could not attend in person; the report alleged that both dogs had escaped their walker and rushed at his dog who received puncture wounds. While the statement was not read in its entirety, it will be made available in the public record of the hearing.
Following the testimony from the alleged victims, Rushton and her legal representation, Jeremy Cohen of Boston Dog Lawyers, spoke in defense of Nala. Cohen said that Rushton was in need of protection as well, stating that “we’re here not just because of a dangerous dog allegation but because of a dangerous dog officer [Betsy Cruger].” He went on to claim that threats had been made and the owners harassed over the alleged actions of the dogs, indicating that “these dogs have no human aggression.” He then called on the town to take action in response to the harassment of his client, reporting that these comments were “putting her son in jeopardy at school, and that’s what happens when things are embellished and facts aren’t made clear.”
Attorney Cohen defended his client further, suggesting that she is an “incredibly engaged owner” and that “she has done an amazing amount of work” to prevent further attacks. He went on to discuss the nature of the recommendations that were made by Cruger and the Animal Control Department. He alleged that these recommendations should actually be categorized as orders and that Cruger took action before a hearing had occurred, in a situation he described as “an animal control officer out of control.” Cohen went on to discuss the notion that small children might be in danger as a result of Nala’s presence, particularly those who are walking their own dogs in the neighborhood. “I heard young kids are walking dogs,” he explained, adding, “well kids shouldn’t be walking dogs in the neighborhood necessarily.”
Rather than being called a dangerous dog, Cohen suggested, Nala should actually be classified as a nuisance dog, arguing that this classification would give far more flexibility to the Select Board in handing down restrictions, while the dangerous dog classification includes just seven options, one of which is euthanization. He argued that because requiring training and separate walking is only allowed under the nuisance dog classification, that would be more fitting, but that the consequences for breaking restrictions remain in place and are equivalent regardless of the classification.
He further argued that the police report about the incident in which Barone is alleged to have been bitten on the hand does not include the name of the dog, casting doubt on the reliability of the claim. “This was not human aggression,” he said, because “he intervened to save his dog's life… and when you do that you’re going to get bitten in the hand.”
Kezer ultimately elected to declare Nala a dangerous dog and will provide a summary of the hearing in a report to the Select Board.
Attorney Cohen reached out to Marblehead Beacon following the hearing to provide further information, which may be read here.