GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 5, 2013

Gutted dog case: 'Cruelty element lacking'

Lawyer says pitbull died of heroin overdose

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The lawyer of a Gloucester man accused of slicing open his pet pitbull to retrieve heroin from the dog’s stomach wants the case dismissed, pointing to insufficient evidence as the reason for dismissal.

John “Jack” Dugan, 28, of 139 Prospect St. was arraigned on a charge of animal abuse during a pretrial hearing in Gloucester District Court yesterday. His attorney, Thomas J. O’Shea, filed the motion for Judge Joseph Jennings to dismiss the case on the same day.

O’Shea argued that Massachusetts law defines animal cruelty as to “overload, overwork, torment, deprive of necessary sustenance, cruelly beat, mutilate or kill an animal.” O’Shea wrote that his client, Dugan, performed none of those acts in the Dec. 3 incident, saying the dog’s ingestion of heroin caused an overdose that killed her.

“This element is lacking in this case, where his dog accidentally ingested a substance, which resulted in (the dog’s) death. The cruelty element is lacking,” O’Shea wrote.

After Dugan was arrested, police say he told them he had cut his dog, Xena, after she had died from ingesting heroin that Dugan had left on his kitchen counter. Dugan said he had made the incision in order to release gasses that had caused Xena to bloat after her death, making it difficult to move her body, according to police report.

Though police did not believe Dugan’s explanation for gutting Xena, the police report said it seemed the dog had been gutted after she died from the overdose, not while she was still living. However, police have requested an autopsy of Xena, and are awaiting results.

Police consulted a veterinarian who called Dugan’s reasoning a “blatant lie,” saying gastric extension, or bloating, would be extremely unlikely in a death from an overdose.

Detective Steven Mizzoni wrote in his report that he believes Dugan had been packaging heroin for sale, and that he cut Xena open after her death because she had ingested a sealed package in addition to the open package that caused her overdose.

“There is no logical explanation for the dog to have been surgically sliced open and her entrails removed if not for attempting to locate something inside her — heroin,” Mizzoni wrote in the report.

Dugan’s attorney, O’Shea, told Judge Jennings that Dugan has been taking a serious look at his drug use, and that Dugan’s family was in court supporting him.

Dugan, after the hearing Friday, returned to Middleton Jail where he has been since his Dec. 6 arrest. Dugan’s bail is set at $20,000 and must be paid in cash. The bail rate takes into consideration factors including the potential punishment and past charges.

According to past police reports, Dugan was arrested on an animal cruelty charge in 2007 after breaking the legs of a girlfriend’s dog “in a fit of rage.” He was also charged with marijuana possession in 2009 after police serving him with a restraining order found more than an ounce of pot and $1,900 in cash in his apartment, according to police.

If found guilty, Dugan would face up to five years in a state prison, up to 21/2 years in a house of correction, a fine no higher than $2,500, or a combination of a fine and jail time. He would also be banished from pet ownership.

Police removed another pitbull, a male named Damian, from Dugan’s home immediately after Dugan’s arrest. The dog has since been adopted, according to police.

A witness who identified herself as Dugan’s ex-girlfriend told police Dugan used to “punch” the dogs in the head and body when he would become upset by their behavior, according to the police report. The witness also told police that weeks ago Dugan had grown angry at Xena when the dog tangled herself in exercise equipment and had allowed Xena to choke to the point of becoming unresponsive, her tongue hanging out of her mouth, before reviving her.

A check of city records shows that Dugan also owned another dog at one point, a black Labrador retriever also named Xena, but that dog was not found during the investigation, police said. The black lab has not been licensed since 2009, but had visited the veterinarian between July 2011 and July 2012, according to a list submitted to the city on July 24, 2012.

Neither Xena the pitbull nor Damian were licensed, and neither dog had visited an area veterinarian for rabies shots in the past year, according to city records.

Dugan is slated to return to court on Jan. 18, when Judge Jennings will decide on the status of that case.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.