A vicious dog moved to Schenectady this week, part of a plea deal that allowed its Pittsfield, Mass., owner to relocate her dog rather than put it to death.
The dog was involved in an attack on a 9-year-old boy in Pittsfield in June. Another dog who led the attack was euthanized, while Zeus was deemed officially vicious and sent to live in Schenectady. Owner Lori Rohde’s boyfriend owns a house on Orchard Street, so she wanted to come here.
Mayor Gary McCarthy was furious to hear that Central Berkshire District Court offered Rohde a choice of relocation instead of restraining or euthanizing Zeus.
“We don’t want these dogs coming here,” he said. “It’s pushing the problems somewhere else as opposed to solving it.”
Assistant Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico added that when he learned late last week that the dog might be sent here, he tried to persuade the court to euthanize Zeus instead.
“The city of Schenectady’s position was we wanted these dogs put down since they have been adjudicated dangerous,” he said.
He was actually informed by the owner’s attorney, who called to ask him for a letter saying the city would welcome the dogs.
“I told her absolutely not. We don’t welcome these dogs here,” he said.
But the city has little recourse. The legal decisions have already been made, and the city’s laws regarding dangerous dogs only apply to dogs that committed those acts within the city limits. Even the new law requiring owners of dangerous dogs to get liability insurance won’t apply to Zeus, because he hasn’t done anything wrong in Schenectady.
Falotico plans to simply notify animal control officers and strictly enforce the leash law and licensing requirements.
It’s not unheard of to relocate a dangerous dog. Schenectady allows relocation too, but not in cases where a human was bitten. City attorneys now demand euthanization in those cases, Falotico said.
But Rohde successfully argued in court that Zeus had not actually bitten the boy, although he may have scratched and trampled the child. The boy was left with 35 puncture wounds to his head and lost part of his scalp.
Police described the wounds as bites; Rohde said they were from the dogs’ claws.
Police also said the dogs ripped off part of the boy’s scalp, but Rohde said the injury happened when the boy fell off the stairs after being pushed down.
Rohde said Zeus was not a violent dog.
“He’s just afraid,” she said.
On Wednesday, Zeus greeted strangers by barking furiously and climbing into a window to get near them. By court order, he can only be walked with a muzzle and only allowed to roam freely in his fenced backyard. But Pittsfield officials acknowledged they are not going to check on him.
Rohde is working with a specialized trainer to socialize him. As he barked at strangers, she chanted, “New friend, new friend,” which he ignored. But after she dragged him away from the window and put him in a gated room where he could not see the strangers, he immediately calmed down.
She’s not ready to let him near people. Neither is her boyfriend. They say he was holding Zeus’ leash when the attack began. He was also holding the leash for Diablo, who led the attack. He said he was unable to hold the dogs back. He also owns a dog, Cleopatra, who the courts deemed well-behaved.
For now, no stranger is allowed in the house. Zeus will begin Good Citizen dog training classes in Glenville on Aug. 24, which may teach him to accept strangers touching him and playing with him. He can only pass the class if he accepts strangers touching him, can walk past other dogs “without losing his mind” and can continue to behave when his owner steps away.
It won’t be easy to retrain him, Good Citizen trainer Cydney Cross warned. And it will require hard work for the humans.
“If they are committed to doing what they are told to do, no one will ever hear anything about this dog for the rest of its life,” she said. “They know their behavior is going to be critical to letting this poor guy live out his life.”
She doesn’t pull punches. She visited Zeus and Diablo in a kennel in Pittsfield and told Rohde that Diablo had to be put down.
“I told them there was no way. He wasn’t going to be one of the ones who was saved,” she said.
And she said she’ll report to police if she thinks Zeus is out of control.
“I’m watching them,” she said. “If I see something I don’t like, if they don’t come to class, I’ll tell the police to go pick up the dog.”
Rohde is already practicing the tips Cross taught her.
“Thank God for her,” she said.
And Cross is convinced that Rohde intends to work hard.
“Hopefully these people have learned from their mistake and this dog will get a chance at life,” she said.
Rohde said the incident wasn’t her fault and that it wasn’t a case of poor training.
“I’ve owned dogs for 36 years and I’ve never, ever, ever had a problem,” she said.
Later she admitted that her boyfriend had been ticketed when Diablo, the euthanized dog, was running loose in Schenectady during a visit a couple years ago. The two also had to call Pittsfield police in 2007 when their unneutered male dogs got into a fight, injuring both of them as they tried to stop it. Police later had to shoot one of the dogs when it attacked them as they tried to enter the house.
But each incident was a unique situation, she said.
“They made it like we breed these killers,” she added. “My dogs are my children. I love them.”