“Perfect storm” of misjudgements
BARNSTABLE, Massachusetts–– A questionable pit bull adoption from an as yet unidentified animal shelter believed to be in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a much questioned decision by Sandwich police chief Peter Wack to give the pit bull Bubba another chance after he mauled 62-year-old Elizabeth Hiatt in September 2017, a purported PetSmart policy against grooming muzzled dogs, and a groomer with a long history of pit bull advocacy combined on December 27, 2017 to send the groomer, Sienna Bryden, 22, to hospital in Boston by helicopter.
Bubba, the pit bull, was euthanized on December 28, 2017.
“Trail of blood”
According to the Barnstable Police media statement, patrolman Doug Palmer responded to an 11:15 a.m. report of a dog bite at the Hyannis PetSmart to discover “a trail of blood leading from the grooming area, through the customer aisle and training area, around the corner and into the employee lounge,” where Bryden was “being treated by co-workers for multiple bite wounds.
“As a result of the severity of the injuries – described as bite wounds to her upper torso, wrist and hand, as well as extensive tearing of the flesh, possible broken bones and a suspected dislocated shoulder – Hyannis Fire Department Rescue also responded to the scene,” the Barnstable Police statement said.
“Sweet as can be”
“The victim stated that the owner of the dog, a pit bull mix, brought him in wearing a muzzle, requesting that he be groomed,” the Barnstable Police statement continued. “When asked about the muzzle, the owner simply told the employees that the dog had previously attacked another dog, and stated that the dog was ‘sweet as can be,’ while failing to disclose that he had also attacked a person, which PetSmart states would have resulted in services being declined.
“The victim stated that store policy required that the muzzle be removed in the grooming area,” the Barnstable Police statement added, “and that the owner was informed. During the grooming process, while the dog was being moved, for no apparent reason and without warning, the dog attacked the victim and would not let go of her arm. Co-workers utilized an air horn and special spray, but were not able to deter the dog, until they were able to physically extract the victim’s arm from the jaws of the dog.”
Hyannis Fire Department Rescue stabilized Bryden at the scene, “transported her to Cape Cod Hospital, and she was later flown to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston for treatment,” the Barnstable Police statement finished. “Following this incident, the dog, per state policy, was released to the owner and ordered to be kept under in-house quarantine for ten days, and the Town of Sandwich Police and Animal Control were notified.”
String of PetSmart incidents
The pit bull attack at the Hyannis PetSmart appeared to parallel a March 29, 2016 bullmastiff attack at a PetSmart store in South Philadelphia. A 26-year-old female groomer suffered cuts to her hand, arm and ankle, according to police.
After injuring the groomer, the bullmastiff “attacked a Pomeranian in the grooming area of the store,” reported PhillyCom staff writer Julie Shaw, citing statements from both “police and a spokeswoman for PetSmart.”
In July 2017 a two-year-old girl who was being carried in her mother’s arms was reportedly injured by a pit bull who bolted out of a training ring at a PetSmart store in Colonial Heights, Virginia, leaped at the mother, then “latched on to the child’s leg,” Colonial Heights police captain William Anspach told media.
At least five small dogs have been killed by pit bulls in PetSmart stores since a November 2015 change of senior management, including the dismissal of all 37 staff at PetSmart Charities, a PetSmart-controlled nonprofit affiliate.
“I understand the nature of animals”
But the issues involved in the Hyannis PetSmart pit bull attack turned out to be bigger and more complex than just PetSmart policies pertaining to muzzles and dangerous dogs in stores.
Facebook postings indicate that groomer Sienna Bryden, of Dennis, Massachusetts, has two pit bulls herself, and has been involved in pit bull advocacy at least since 2011. Approximately “2 years ago,” according to Change.org, Bryden posted a petition “to get my dog Blu allowed back onto Sandy Neck,” a Cape Cod beach.
Alleged Bryden, “He got kicked off because he barked and jumped on a park ranger- period. He did not bite the ranger––and he was on his leash as required by law,” Bryden claimed.
“I am a responsible animal owner,” Bryden asserted. “I work in the pet care field and deal with animals on a regular basis. I understand the nature of animals.”
The Hiatt attack
Bubba, the pit bull who mauled Bryden, and his owner Clifford Gardner, who brought the pit bull to be groomed, also had history.
On September 5, 2017, according to Cape Cod Times reporter Cynthia McCormick, summarizing accounts from multiple witnesses including Elizabeth Hiatt and one of her daughters, Brittany Korsh, “Hiatt was walking Bubba on a leash as a favor to the dog’s owners, Clifford Gardner, 80, and his wife, Edith, who Hiatt said are friends of hers from church and are in frail health. She had walked Bubba daily for a few weeks, and was accompanied by her daughter, her granddaughter in a stroller, and a friend from out of town.”
When Bubba saw neighbor Wayne Cobb “walking his dog Klondike on the other side of the street, he broke free of his collar and lunged for the 13-year-old Samoyed,” McCormick wrote.
Klondike was knocked down and bitten, but Cobb managed to free him, whereupon Bubba redirected to maul Hiatt.
“Bubba fastened on her left hand,” also injuring Hiatt’s right arm and inflicting facial injuries, McCormick continued. “X-rays at Boston Medical Center, where she spent three days, showed her bones were pocked with bite marks and the long bones in her forearm were both fractured.”
While Korsh “tried to call Bubba off her mother and then resorted to pulling his leash and kicking him, a good Samaritan drove up and put Korsh’s baby and stroller in her car,” McCormick narrated. “The attack ended only when Clifford Gardner, alerted by Hiatt’s friend, came up and threw his body over Bubba, Korsh said.”
“Only the dog’s first offense”
Affirmed Hiatt’s other daughter, Regan Elizabeth Sherman, on October 12, 2017 via Facebook, “Her injuries are severe, including two broken bones and more than 100 stitches across her hands, arms and face. Her physical recovery will take months of physical and occupational therapy. The mental and emotional scars from the attack will be with her (and our family) forever.”
Sherman wrote, she explained, to alert friends and neighbors that Bubba had been returned to Clifford and Edith Gardner, despite the severity of Hiatt’s injuries and even though “their fragility and poor health is the reason my Mom was walking the dog in the first place. As a favor. Because that’s just who she is.
“We were told by the Sandwich animal control officer [apparently deputy animal control officer Walter T. Fagnant Jr.] that this attack was ‘only the dog’s first offense,’” Sherman recounted. “As of today, the dog remains on a busy street in a neighborhood full of kids (19 under the age of 13 on the same street, according to a neighbor’s count).”
“Bubba was tested for aggression”
Testifying before an October 25, 2017 hearing as to whether Bubba should be declared a dangerous dog, at least two other neighbors described Bubba charging them, another dog, and a grandchild in separate incidents that they had not previously reported.
“Gardner was given the chance to defend Bubba, who he said was adopted in May 2016,” wrote Cape News reporter Katie Goers. “He said Bubba was tested for aggression before the Hiatts were allowed to bring him home, and that he passed the test with flying colors.”
Giving Bubba a controversial one last chance, Sandwich police chief Peter Wack ordered that he be “humanely muzzled and securely leashed at all times whenever outside and off of the owner or keeper’s property.
“On the owner or keeper’s property,” Wack added, “Bubba must be securely confined indoors or confined outdoors in a securely enclosed and locked pen or dog run area upon the premises. Bubba is not to be walked within the Deep Wood Drive neighborhood,” where the Gardners, Hiatt, and other testifying neighbors all live.
96% favor criminal charges
As Bubba’s history became known, Cape Cod Today editor Robert Fellows posted a poll “on whether or not the owner of the pit bull should face criminal charges,” for having “violated the order about keeping the dog muzzled and leashed at all times while outside/off property. Owner recklessly endangered the store staff by failing to disclose the dog had attacked a person and was ruled ‘dangerous,’” Fellows told ANIMALS 24-7.
Eight hours after the poll was posted, 96% of the respondents agreed that Clifford Gardner should be criminally prosecuted, not just be held liable in a civil lawsuit.
Observed McCormick of the Cape Cod Times, “Since December 2016 there have been at least three other cases in which Cape women were badly injured by dogs.
Details from public records requests
“On March 12, 2017, Ramona Bouvier, 61, of Barnstable was airlifted to Rhode Island Hospital with an arterial aneurysm and arterial hemorrhage, after being bitten on her right forearm and left lower leg by her son’s American bulldog Thor,” McCormick enumerated. “The dog was surrendered to Barnstable officials and euthanized.
“On February 23, 2017, a Yarmouth woman lost part of her finger trying to break up a fight over a toy between two pit bulls, according to Richard Nelson, Yarmouth animal control officer. Nelson said the bite appeared to be accidental.
“On December 10, 2017, a woman in Marstons Mills was taken by the Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Fire Department to a Plymouth hospital for a MedFlight to Boston after her boyfriend’s 9-year-old American bulldog ripped her lip down to the chin. The dog was euthanized on December 12, 2017.”
Added McCormick, “The information on the two Barnstable cases,” not previously reported by media, “comes from Barnstable police and marine and environmental affairs division reports released after a Cape Cod Times public records request.
Mauling by “rescue” dog Drewski
“The last serious dog attack in Sandwich to be reported in the press occurred on April 5, 2014,” McCormick finished, “when a male pit bull-boxer mix named Drewski ripped the lower lip of a visiting woman off down to the jawline. The dog’s owner surrendered him to animal control, which returned him to the Worcester Animal Rescue League. The league’s executive director, Allie Tellier, said Drewski has been adopted out once again.”
While Tellier said the re-adoption was successful, the name Drewski is unusual, and a pit bull of that name was offered for adoption by New York City Animal Care & Control in April 2017 as a purported “found stray.”