, Gloucester, MA


December 27, 2012

Editorial: Local dog cases show need to revisit animal abuse laws

Some Massachusetts residents across Cape Ann and beyond may have rolled their eyes when Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law new stipulations that essentially allow judges to issue a restraining order protecting a dog, cat or other pet.

They shouldn’t have.

In fact, the new law — used the first time in November to protect a black Labrador retriever caught in the middle of domestic abuse case in Marshfield — already seems essential, given that alleged domestic abusers had clearly been able to previously target their spouse’s, partner’s or even sibling’s or parent’s pet with little response other than charges of harming the victim’s “property.” And two stunning pet abuse cases in Gloucester should indeed give lawmakers and judges pause for either stiffening statutes regarding gross animal abuse, or ensuring that those accused of such abuse receive appropriate penalties.

Both Gloucester cases that have surfaced this month have indeed proven gross, in every sense of the word.

In the more vile, John “Jack” Dugan allegedly gutted his pet pit bull Xena after the dog ingested both a sealed bag of heroin and an unsealed bag, and police believe Dugan gutted the dog to retrieve the sealed bag from the dog’s stomach. He also has a record of breaking the legs of his ex-girlfriend’s dog in the past. In the other case, Marc Appleton, 30, of Lanesville is charged with animal abuse for allegedly kicking his roommate’s beagle mix and fracturing the dog’s leg in three places.

Each of these alleged violent abusers — and make no mistake; if found guilty, that’s what they are — could face up to five years in a state prison, or up to 21/2 years in Middleton jail and/or a fine no higher than $2,500. And a prison term if Dugan is found guilty would seem appropriate. But the fact that each is facing the same charge raises questions as to whether the state needs a mandated minimum penalty with more police and DA filing options regarding the severity of these cases.

Pets aren’t people, but they are generally defenseless members of many families, and targeting them for any kind of abuse is a true crime of violence. Here’s hoping officials recognize these cases — and those who carry out such acts — as the public safety threats they are.

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