TURNER — Sheila Olson is mourning the death of her 14-year-old cocker spaniel, Skittles, which was recently killed by two bulldogs that live up the street.
No consequences came to the two dogs. Animal Control Officer Wendell Strout said he had no history of complaints about them. On the day it happened, all three dogs were off leash and not on their own property, and the bulldogs do not fit the legal definition of dangerous dogs.
“It's unfortunate,” Strout said. “I feel bad for her.” But, he said, the bulldogs are in a responsible home. "I'm not concerned. They're with children every day.”
That doesn't seem right to Olson, who is questioning whether her neighbor's dogs will bite or kill again. She wants to see the law changed.
“I don't feel all dogs should be put down, but there should be a better assessment of domestic dogs who kill other dogs,” she said. “They should be in quarantine until the assessment is done.”
To build support for change, Olson is talking to Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, who said he would look into it.
“I know I love my dog. I feel bad for her,” Timberlake said. Olson bought a full-page ad in the Sun Journal on April 14, and she has launched a Facebook page, “In memory of Skittles.”
At home now with no dog, there's a heartbreaking void, Olson said. “If this is what it feels like to lose a dog, I can't imagine losing a child.”
Skittles died Friday, April 5, after being bitten on the neck by the bulldogs.
“I'm taking some responsibility for what happened,” Olson said, acknowledging that her dog was off its leash. “If he was on leash, this probably would not have happened.”
Her dog often visited the dog next door and typically stayed close to home, Olson said. On this Friday, Skittles wandered to a nearby field on Upper Street. At the same time, two boys whose family owns the bulldogs were walking with the dogs to a neighbor's land to get sap from a tree, Strout said. They took the walk daily, and have their neighbor's permission to get sap. Strout did not identify the bulldogs' owner, and Olson declined to identify her neighbor.
Olson said Skittles approached and sniffed one of the bulldogs. Skittles barked at them. The boys tried to stop the fight and were bitten in the process, Strout said.
“I felt sorry for the boy,” Olson said of one. “He was hysterical.” He carried Skittles to a neighbor for help. That neighbor and Olson's husband drove the dog to emergency care.
The neighbor who owns the bulldogs told Olson he had never seen his dogs behaving like that, Olson said. And he didn't apologize, she said.
The man, who will not be charged in the incident, said he did apologize. "I felt horrible," he said. "I went down and cried." He spoke on the condition that his name not be used. He said his dogs were protective of his sons. "They're good dogs."
Under Maine law, a dog is deemed dangerous if it attacks a person, or attacks a pet on a leash or on the pet's property, Strout said. He checked with the Androscoggin County District Attorney's office, which agreed with Strout's assessment, he said. “And all three dogs were running at large,” he said.
Maine law says it is unlawful for any dog to be at large except when used for hunting. Cities often mandate that dogs be leashed. More rural towns, including Turner, Leeds and Greene, allow dogs to be under their owners' voice control, Strout said.