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Little Compton

A Little Compton “vicious dog” hearing

Sign (one of two) at Little Compton’s Veterans Field, installed by the Town of Little Compton in early June, 2024, citing the town’s Animal Control ordinance, as amended December 7, 2023, requiring leashes for any dog “off its owner or keeper’s property.”

 

In previous posts, on March 21, 2023 and April 3, 2024, I described various aspects of the enforcement (and non-enforcement) of Little Compton’s Animal Control ordinance (Chapter 4 of the Town Code) and the recent amendment of that ordinance.

What these previous stories, and the events they recounted, had in common was a series of incidents, some dating back more than a decade, involving several residents of north Little Compton’s Oak Forest neighborhood and dogs owned by another resident of that area.

May 2, 2024 Little Compton Police Incident Report

A May 2, 2024 incident in the same Oak Forest neighborhood, involving the same owner, one of her dogs, and an Oak Forest resident, resulted in a serious dog-bite injury to that resident and an ambulance trip to a Fall River hospital emergency room. As a result, a “vicious dog” hearing was convened at Little Compton Town Hall on June 6, pursuant to town ordinance and state law. The outcome of that hearing has resulted in what appear to be serious consequences for the dog owner and her dog.

Little Compton Police Department Incident Report 24-159-OF (see copy further below) includes this “Narrative” prepared by Senior Patrolman John Pomerleau, encompassing the May 2 incident and its outcome:

On 05/02/2024 at approximately 1117 hrs Patrolman Itzkowitz the Fire Department and I responded to 32 Sakonnet Trail for the report of a dog bite.

On scene, we spoke to Claire and Stephen Johnson. Claire stated that they were just out walking on Patchet Brook Road when they saw and spoke to Karen Zarriello on the road. Zarriello was out walking her daughter’s dog–Cashew. During their conversation Cashew jumped up and bit Claire on the right arm, breaking skin and drawing blood. Claire and Stephen returned home and contacted the station.

Claire was transported by rescue to Charlton Hospital for her wounds.

Patrolman Itzkowitz and I responded to 26 Patchet Brook Road to speak to Zarriello. She confirmed the Johnson’s [sic] summary of the events. She stated that Cashew belonged to her daughter—Maria Zarriello. I advised her that I would be in contact with Maria about the incident and to have Cashew quarantined at home. She stated that she understood.

I later called Maria and requested that she provide a copy of Cashew’s rabies vaccination paperwork. I informed her when she arrived that she needed to confine Cashew at home for the next 10 days. I also issued Maria with a summons for not having registered Cashew with the town (24-22-AR). She stated that she understood.

I forwarded all relevant forms to the RI DOH and RI DEM.

On 06/06/2024 a vicious dog hearing was held concerning Cashew. It was determined that Karen Zarriello was Cashew’s owner. At the conclusion of the hearing Cashew was ultimately deemed vicious. Karen was instructed to follow the requirements outlined on the attached Vicious Dog Hearing Form.

June 6, 2024 Vicious Dog Hearing

I did not attend the June 6, 2024 Vicious Dog Hearing at the Little Compton Town Hall, as summarized in the last paragraph of Patrolman Pomerleau’s Incident Report. A person who did attend related to me that perhaps a half dozen or more witnesses and residents did attend the hearing, which lasted “at least an hour and a half.”

A Vicious Dog Hearing is conducted under the authority of Section 4–3 of the Little Compton Town Code (“Aggressive Dogs”) and Section 4-13.1-11 of the Rhode Island General Laws (“Regulation of Vicious Dogs”). Subsection (a) of the state law (“Determination of a vicious dog”) sets forth the procedure for such a hearing: 

In the event that the dog officer or law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a dog is vicious, the chief dog officer, or his or her immediate supervisor, or the chief of police, or his or her designee, is empowered to convene a hearing for the purpose of determining whether or not the dog in question should be declared vicious. The dog officer or chief of police shall conduct, or cause to be conducted, an investigation and shall notify the owner or keeper of the dog that a hearing will be held, at which time he or she may have the opportunity to present evidence why the dog should not be declared vicious. The hearing shall be held promptly within no less than five (5), nor more than ten (10), days after service of notice upon the owner or keeper of the dog. The hearing shall be informal and shall be open to the public. The hearing shall be conducted by a panel of three (3) persons that shall consist of the chief of police, or his or her designee, the executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (S.P.C.A.), or his or her designee; and a person chosen by the chief of police and the executive director of the S.P.C.A. All members of the panel shall have one vote in making a determination whether or not the dog in question is vicious. Hearing officers shall have immunity.

According to the standardized form used to report the outcome of the June 6 hearing, the three-person hearing panel included Little Compton Police Chief Scott Raynes, Tiverton Police Department Animal Control Officer Victoria Sartini, and Rhode Island SPCA representative Donna L. Carroll.

The outcome of that hearing, as briefly summarized in Patrolman Pomerleau’s narrative, is detailed in the standardized form, as consistent with the requirements of state law. The copy of the form included below is not very legible, but its content is simple to explain.

In a section of the form calling for a “Findings Vote,” all three panelists signed under the hand-written finding recorded as “Vicious.” Section 4-13.1-2. (12) of the state law defines a “Vicious dog” by the following criteria:

(i) Any dog that, when unprovoked, in a vicious or terrorizing manner, approaches any person in apparent attitude of attack upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds or places;

(ii) Any dog with a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury, or to otherwise endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals;

(iii) Any dog that bites, inflicts injury, assaults, or otherwise attacks a human being or domestic animal without provocation on public or private property; or

(iv) Any dog owned or harbored primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting or any dog trained for dog fighting that is deemed vicious after it has been properly assessed by the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) pursuant to the provisions of § 4-13.1-5(d).

Notwithstanding the definition of a vicious dog in subsection (12), no dog may be declared vicious in accordance with § 4-13.1-11 if an injury or damage is sustained by a person who, at the time that injury or damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort upon premises occupied by the owner or keeper of the dog; or was teasing, tormenting, provoking, abusing, or assaulting the dog; or was committing, or attempting to commit, a crime; or until the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals has an opportunity to assess the dog pursuant to the provisions of § 4-13.1-5(d).

(v) No dog may be declared vicious if an injury or damage was sustained by a domestic animal which, at the time that injury or damage was sustained, was teasing, tormenting, provoking, abusing, or assaulting the dog. No dog may be declared vicious if the dog was protecting or defending a human being within the immediate vicinity of the dog from an unjustified attack or assault.

Having found the dog, Cashew, vicious, the three hearing officers voted unanimously on ten “Requirements” or conditions for the owner’s continuing care and control of the dog. The three panelists all voted “Yes” to the following requirements, as listed in the form:

    • Insurance (at least $100,000)
    • Tattoo or microchip
    • Warning sign
    • Notify police department of loose dog
    • Leash and muzzle required when dog is off owner’s property
    • Tie out in an enclosed area when dog is on owner’s property
    • Spayed or neutered
    • Owner notification of change of residence to city or town of both new and old addresses
    • Owner prohibited to sell or give dog away

The three panelists unanimously voted “No” to the requirement that the dog be confined in a six-sided enclosure.

The “Vicious Dog Hearing” form lists Maria Zarriello as Cashew’s owner. However, Patrolman Pomerleau’s narrative reports that “It was determined that Karen Zarriello was Cashew’s owner,” and that “Karen [Maria’s mother] was instructed to follow the requirements outlined on the attached Vicious Dog Hearing Form.”

The May 2 incident in which Ms. Johnson was bitten and injured by Ms. Zarriello’s dog Cashew was both serious and disturbing, even as depicted by the austere tone and detail of Patrolman Pomerleau’s report. It is reassuring that Police Chief Raynes, as provided by town ordinance and state law, convened a Vicious Dog Hearing in response. The proceeding provided a structured legal process to consider evidence and testimony concerning such an incident. The proceeding could not have been pleasant for those concerned. But it did appear to provide due process and a clearly defined outcome for the incident’s victim, for the dog owner, and, not least, for the dog itself.

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NOTE: I have provided in the “Documents” section of this site, under the heading “Concerning Little Compton, RI,” a compilation of Little Compton Police Department reports from previous incidents involving Ms. Zarriello’s dogs, from 2013 to 2022. ♦