, Gloucester, MA

December 7, 2012

Man charged in grisly pitbull case

Owner gutted dog to retrieve heroin, police say

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Police have charged the owner of a pitbull with animal cruelty after his pet was found dead, sliced open, and discarded over an embankment at the end of Sadler Street Extension earlier this week.

John “Jack” Dugan of 139 Prospect St., the 26-year-old dog owner, was arrested Wednesday about 1:23 p.m., and he was still being held as of late Friday on $25,000 cash bail.

Police Chief Leonard Campanello said the bail matched the “serious” crime.

According to police, the dog — whose body was discovered by another dog owner walking her own pet in the area — was completely disembowelled, and authorities found the dog’s entrails enclosed in a plastic bag that officers retrieved from a nearby Dumpster.

Police said that Dugan’s 1 1/2-year-old female blue nose pitbull Xena had apparently swallowed unpackaged heroin that Dugan said he had left on a counter in his home, as well as a sealed bag of the narcotic. Officers believe that Dugan cut the pitbull open in order to retrieve the sealed bag of heroin, according to the police report.

Police found the dog’s entrails enclosed in a plastic bag, which officers retrieved from a nearby dumpster.

According to the police report, Dugan confirmed officers’ suspicions that the dog had overdosed on heroin and died after eating the narcotic.

But Dugan’s stated reason for slicing the dog was different. Dugan told police that after the dog died, she began to bloat with gas, so he cut the pitbull open in order to make her body easier to dispose of by releasing the gases, according to the report.

An animal hospital doctor told police, however, that bloating would have been unlikely, and called Dugan’s explanation of cutting the dog open to relieve bloating a “blatant lie.”

Police said, based on that information, the officers’ theory that Dugan cut open Xena to retrieve heroin is the only “logical explanation.”

“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,” the report said.

On the day of Dugan’s arrest, the city’s animal control officer seized another pitbull dog, also owned by Dugan, from his house during a search, according to the report. The surviving dog was remanded to the MSPCA, according to Campanello.

“The circumstances warranted taking the dog out of the house,” Campanello said.

In their search of Dugan’s apartment, police found a scale and hundreds of small sandwich bags and corner baggies, both used in the packaging of narcotics, according to police.

Police also interviewed a woman who described herself as Dugan’s ex-girlfriend who previously shared a home with Dugan and was part owner of the dogs, and told officers that he had been “abusive.” The woman said Dugan frequently punched the dogs in the head or body when they were misbehaving. She also described an incident, just weeks ago, in which Xena became tangled in exercise equipment, and Dugan allowed her to choke to the point of becoming unresponsive, according to the police report.

The police report also notes that Dugan was arrested on an animal cruelty charge in 2007 after breaking the legs of another girlfriend’s dog “in a fit of rage,” according to reports at the time. 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.

The police report from the current case notes that, on Xena’s neck and head, officers also found multiple bite marks. But, Campanello said, the wounds seemed to result not from organized dog fighting, but from casual play between Xena and Dugan’s other pitbull, named Damian.

“I think what happened is that the two dogs would fight each other sometimes, I don’t think it was anything planned,” Campanello said.

Gloucester police have been conducting the investigation in conjunction with a state police officer from the MSPCA-Angell’s animal cruelty investigations unit. The investigation is ongoing and police could seek additional charges, Campanello said Friday.

Campanello commended the officers and other participants in the investigation.

“It was a great collaboration between the resident who first took notice and called us, the local people, the MSPCA, and the police,” Campanello said. “Obviously a lot of things came together in this particular case and the officer did an outstanding job of putting the pieces together.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at