Published June 30, 2021
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — A Saunders Road dog has been ordered to be euthanized following a gruesome attack that occurred on May 13.
According to a police report obtained by the Villager, Patrolman Stephen J. Conley responded to 15 Saunders Rd. at 8:15 a.m. on May 13 after the Police Department received a report about the dog attack. When Conley arrived at the scene, he saw Paul Ernest, 11 Grant Rd., “being treated for a dog bite on his lower left leg by Lynnfield Fire Department ambulance personnel.” Conley also stated that he saw an “approximate 12-inch pile of blood on the street and numerous blood droplets in the area leading up to where Paul was being treated.”
After the attack occurred, Town Administrator Rob Dolan stated in a June 21 decision that Ernest and six other residents submitted a petition to the Select Board requesting that the dog, Lexi, who lives at 2 Saunders Rd., be classified as a “dangerous dog and that appropriate remedial action be ordered to prevent future attacks.” He recalled that Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140, Section 157 allows dogs to be classified as either a “dangerous dog or a nuisance dog.”
Boston Dog Lawyers atty. Jeremy Cohen, who represents Lexi’s owners Joe Grant and Anna Costa, informed the Villager that Lexi is a Rottweiler mixed with two other breeds.
An emotional public hearing about the attack occurred in the Al Merritt Media and Cultural Center on June 9. Dolan served as the hearing authority for the case. Assistant Town Administrator Bob Curtin, Town Counsel Tom Mullen, Interim Police Chief Nick Secatore and Animal Control Officer David Crockett also attended the public hearing. The attendees who spoke were sworn in before giving testimony, and Cohen was prohibited from cross-examining witnesses.
Ernest, who was using crutches and wearing a walking boot, described the events that occurred on May 13. He said he decided to take his dog, Olive, out for a walk before he was planning on going out for a run. While walking down Saunders Road, he saw Alessandra Costa, 2 Saunders Rd., walking her two dogs, Lexi and Tyson.
“I crossed the street so we would not be near them when we passed,” said Ernest.
Ernest said Costa tried controlling the two dogs when they started barking and pulling towards Olive and him.
“They pulled their leashes free and were upon us in an instant,” said Ernest. “The dogs circled around my legs, with Lexi viciously pursuing Olive. I didn’t have a plan. I was just hoping to keep the dogs separated somehow.”
During the scuffle, Ernest said he felt a “pinching sensation” on his leg.
“I was prepared to see a puncture wound and some blood,” said Ernest. “I was surprised to see the skin peeled from my legs starting just below my knee all the way down to my ankle.”
Ernest said Lexi pursued Olive while Tyson did not. After Lexi bit him, Ernest said Tyson came over to sniff him while he was sitting on the curb waiting for EMTs to arrive.
“I commanded Tyson to sit, which he didn’t do, but he looked at me quizzically and kept his distance,” said Ernest. “Alessandra yelled, ‘You don’t need to yell at that one’ in order to reassure me. That statement tells us a little bit about Tyson, but it tells us much more about Lexi.”
Casey Groff, 15 Saunders Rd., witnessed the dog attack while she was taking out her recycling. She said Lexi and Tyson “began barking aggressively and pulling toward the direction of Paul and Olive.”
“The intensity of the dogs’ behavior was significant enough to catch my attention,” said Groff. “There was nothing that I observed that would have provoked this behavior. I did not observe Olive bark back or respond aggressively. If anything, Olive appeared to be frightened. When they were going towards Paul and Olive, it was not in a playful or excited manner as dogs often do. It appeared to be aggressive.”
While Ernest was trying to keep Lexi and Tyson away from Olive, Groff said she heard him scream.
“I asked Paul if he was okay and he responded by saying he was not okay,” said Groff. “At the same time, Paul turned at an angle, which revealed a massive open wound to his leg. There was gushing blood, which he had indicated Lexi had done. The wound basically spanned the entire length of his calf and shin area. The skin was completely torn off.”
Groff called 911 and Ernest’s wife, Carmelia, in order to let them know about the attack. She said Costa was crying, apologized to Ernest and yelled at Lexi. She said someone Costa knew went to the scene and took the dogs away.
“As we were waiting for help, I became increasingly concerned about the seriousness of Paul’s injury,” said Groff. “The surface area of the wound was so large that it caused significant and rapid blood loss. Fortunately, medical help arrived very shortly after, the EMTs put Paul on a stretcher and he was transported to the hospital.”
Ernest gave a detailed overview of how his injury has been treated since the attack. He had a wound VAC attached to his leg for three weeks in order to “close the wound.” He was also forced to have skin graft surgery.
“It’s a 4-inch by 9-inch skin graft, so it’s a significant size that is on a difficult spot,” said Ernest. “I am hoping it sticks so I won’t have to do this again.”
Ernest said the pain from the attack has been “excruciating.” He said it’s “uncomfortable” having the wound’s dressings changed.
“It’s getting better,” said Ernest.
In response to a question from Town Counsel Tom Mullen, Ernest said he did not call out to Costa, Lexi and Tyson during their walk.
“We were trying move on by as expeditiously as possible,” said Ernest.
Groff said the attack has frightened the entire neighborhood.
“It could have been deadly,” she said. “I am the mother of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and they often accompany when I am walking my dog in the neighborhood. I am concerned about all of the other children in the neighborhood.”
Atty. Cohen said he empathizes with Ernest and the neighborhood’s concerns. He claimed that Ernest called Lexi’s name before the attack as well as during previous instances when he ran by 2 Saunders Rd.
“Does that mean Lexi should have bit him?” asked Cohen. “No. There have been no other prior instances with Lexi. In five-and-a-half years, she hasn’t bitten anybody.”
Cohen urged Dolan to classify Lexi as a nuisance dog and not a dangerous dog. He said Lexi’s owners have agreed to take several remedial measures in order to prevent her from attacking another person or dog. He said the couple has installed a 6-foot vinyl fence around their property and have agreed to put a muzzle on Lexi whenever she leaves the property.
Joe Grant said he and his entire family feel terrible about what happened to Ernest. He claimed that Ernest said told him and his family that the injured resident called Lexi’s name before the attack during a meeting in Ernest’s backyard on May 14.
“It’s a very, very unfortunate accident,” said Grant. “We are distraught about the whole thing.”
Dolan stated in his decision that none of the people at the scene of the attack testified that Ernest said anything to Lexi before she bit him. He also stated that, “The facts here do not describe a nuisance dog.”
“Lexi’s problem is not excessive barking, and the attack was very much a grossly disproportionate reaction under all the circumstances,” Dolan stated.
Dolan also stated that he did not believe Cohen’s argument that Olive was Lexi’s intended target.
“Mr. Ernest was mauled while Olive emerged unscathed,” Dolan stated. “I note too that this argument appears to be inconsistent with the assertion that Lexi was provoked, since no evidence has been presented that Olive offered any provocation.”
Dolan noted that state law prohibits him from ordering Lexi to be removed from Lynnfield.
“I could order her to be restrained or confined,” Dolan stated. “Likewise, she could be neutered. But Ms. Costa, one of her owners, was doing her best to restrain Lexi when the attack occurred. There is no guarantee I could give a fearful neighborhood that any conditions of confinement would prevent the dog from breaking out and doing the same or even worse harm in the future than it has already done. Neutering would be pointless. I therefore order that the dog known as Lexi, which is housed at 2 Saunders Rd. in Lynnfield, shall be humanely euthanized at the earliest opportunity following the expiration of the 10-day appeal period.”
Cohen informed the Villager in an email that his clients will be appealing Dolan’s decision.
“The most important question to be addressed at the dog hearing on June 9 was why, for the first time in her nearly 6-year life, did Lexi allegedly bite someone,” said Cohen. “Our team knew more about dog behavior than anyone in that room but we were muted – as in I was not allowed to question my own witness. There is nothing fair about that. Taking and killing someone’s pet requires that the town first provide the pet owner with the constitutional protections of procedural due process, which includes a fair hearing. “The order issued purposefully deletes important facts and evidence that we presented for consideration,” Cohen continued. “Even the bite victim did not want Lexi killed. This could have ended already with significant remedies and safeguards in place to make all sides have a sense of victory and security. Now, Boston Dog Lawyers will appeal and fight this for as many court hearings as it takes to re-present the same information to someone who will actually be willing to hear it, to listen. Lynnfield made this a life or death decision, so as a lawyer and a pet owner, I don’t think I am asking for too much.”