Dog is offered death-row reprieve

Biter is sentenced to kennel exile

By L.E. Crowley
Globe Correspondent / November 20, 2009

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HINGHAM - An English mastiff that bit the wife of Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and another woman would be sent to a New York shelter and avoid being put to death under a court decision issued yesterday.

The decision issued by Hingham District Court Clerk Magistrate Andrew Quigley is intended to save the life of the dog, named Gabriella, who was ordered euthanized last month by Hingham selectmen because of the biting incidents.

The owners have 10 days to decide whether they will appeal the magistrate’s decision to a judge. They had hoped to send the dog to a kennel in Rockland, much closer to their home.

“We will weigh our options and make a decision,’’ said Jeffrey Clifford, a lawyer for Megan and Robert Ullman, the owners of Gabriella.

Clifford said the family is unsure the New York shelter has space for Gabriella, and seeks assurances the dog won’t be euthanized without their knowledge. “We don’t think they will [kill the dog], but it is a concern,’’ Clifford said.

Hingham police Lieutenant Michael Peraino praised the town’s animal control officer, Leslie Badger, for finding a place that would take the dog and for working out the arrangement. “Nobody wanted to see the dog euthanized, but we needed to find a compromise that would protect the town and make sure it doesn’t happen again,’’ Peraino said.

He said the town was not in favor of the Ullmans’ proposal to move the dog to a Rockland kennel owned by Patty Benton. The site was too close to the family, and there were concerns that the kennel, enclosed by two fences, was not secure enough to prevent Gabriella from escaping or being kidnapped, Peraino said.

After a lengthy hearing in late October, Hingham selectmen reluctantly voted to euthanize the dog because of two incidents when the English mastiff bit women at the Ullmans’ Hingham Square art gallery.

The first incident took place in June 2008, when Gabriella punctured and scratched the thigh area of Hingham resident Stacey Wakefield, wife of the Red Sox pitcher. At the time, the shop was supposed to have been locked and closed by Megan Ullman.

Hingham police took the Ullmans to court following the incident, and after several hearings, criminal charges were reduced to a civil complaint and the Ullmans were ordered not to bring the dog to their shop.

A year later, Braintree resident Krista Brewer was bitten in the abdomen. The Ullmans described the injury as minor, but photographs shown during the selectmen’s hearing showed extensive bruising and swelling.

Brewer’s father, Dick, who attended yesterday’s hearing, said afterward that the Ullmans’ and their lawyer’s description of the wound is “highly offensive.’’ “It wasn’t an ‘alleged’ bite,’’ Brewer said.

After selectmen voted to have the dog put down, the board received so many calls that it issued a statement late last month explaining the reasons for its decision.

At yesterday’s hearing, Clifford said there have been cases of dogs being euthanized at no-kill shelters, including the proposed destination in New York.

Badger repeatedly assured the court that Gabriella would not be put down.

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