By Marjorie Nesin
---- — As animal rights advocates collected signatures on a petition pushing for a maximum sentence against the 27-year-old Gloucester man accused of gutting his pet pit bull Xena in December after the dog ingested heroin, the man — John Dugan — has stepped out of Middleton Jail upon meeting the terms of his $20,000 cash bail.
Eugene C. Tessicini, also of Gloucester, laid down $20,000 in bail to gain the release of Dugan on Jan. 13, and Dugan registered Tessicini’s residence as the place he will be staying for the remainder of his trial, according to court documents.
Tessicini, when reached by telephone Tuesday, declined to comment on the case or on his bail posting, calling it a private, personal issue.
Meanwhile, animal rights activists have collected over 65,000 signatures on an online petition called “Request justice for Xena, gutted by her owner.”
The point of the petition, said Lisa Casavant of Andover, who posted the petition, is to urge Gloucester District Court Judge Joseph Jennings to continue the case to trial, then impose the maximum penalty on Dugan if he is found guilty.
“This could be a landmark case, and I know that there’ve been efforts in the past to beef up the laws, but anything that pertains to animals kind of takes a back seat to any other issues that are on people’s mind,” Casavant said. “We’ll keep up the pressure, making everybody that we can aware. We could really take a stance against this level of animal cruelty.”
Dugan is not to possess animals and may be subject to random screens for illegal drugs, ordered Judge Jennings, presiding over the case, on Dec. 7. Another pit bull Dugan had owned was seized from his house during a post-arrest search, and has already been adopted, according to police.
Dugan had been arrested on Dec. 5, just one day after police discovered his gutted pit bull, Xena, discarded over the Sadler Extension embankment, her entrails tucked away in a bag and thrown into a nearby dumpster. Police believe Dugan cut Xena open to retrieve a sealed packet of heroin that the dog ingested along with an unsealed bag, both of which had been left on Dugan’s kitchen counter, according to a report.
In a confession to police, Dugan told officers Xena had died of ingesting heroin, but said he cut open the dog only to relieve bloating after her death; Dugan however, is not facing any drug charges.
Dugan’s former lawyer, Thomas J. O’Shea, had filed a motion for Judge Joseph Jennings to dismiss the case on Jan. 4th, the day of Dugan’s pretrial hearing.
O’Shea had 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 incident of Xena’s death, 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,” O’Shea wrote in the request for dismissal. “The cruelty element is lacking.”
Necropsy results that could answer questions about Xena’s death have yet to be completed, but could become public information during the evidence presentation period of the case. Dugan was assigned a new lawyer, John Morris, on Jan. 7, and it is unclear if Morris will continue with O’Shea’s push for dismissal. Morris did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
If found guilty of the animal cruelty charge leveled against him, Dugan would face up to five years in a state prison, up to 2 1/2 years in a house of correction, a fine no higher than $2,500, or any combination of a fine and jail time. He would also be barred from any further pet ownership.
Dugan is slated to return to court on March 5 for a status hearing, which will determine the future course of this case.
Meanwhile, a criminal complaint Dugan had leveled against his former girlfriend and the co-owner of his dogs was dropped upon failure to prosecute yesterday.
In a separate police report, Dugan told officers on Nov. 3 that he and the 20-year-old girlfriend had been arguing about the dogs earlier in the day, then he had told the woman to leave and she refused, instead allegedly breaking his flat screen television, an interior door and a kitchen table, Dugan told police. But prosecutors did not go forward with any charges.
Dugan had also told police the woman released one of his dogs outside before fleeing the home.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.