The dog that killed 7-year-old Hunter Bragg last week in Corinna had attacked its previous owner’s other dog several times and killed the boy by attacking his throat, according to a dog bite report by the town’s animal control officer.

The report, obtained Friday by the Morning Sentinel after a public records request, indicates the boy, of Bangor, was alone with the adult male pit bull when it attacked him at the 207 Moody’s Mills Road home of Gary Merchant.

While the report says the boy’s throat was attacked, it doesn’t specify whether the attack was a bite or more than that, and how extensive the attack was.

Animal Control Officer Charles Gould, who prepared the report, said Friday he couldn’t elaborate on the nature of the attack. Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton said earlier this week that his office would have no more information on the details until the state medical examiner released the autopsy report. He declined to comment Friday on the bite report.

Hunter was pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m. Saturday at the scene of the attack, where he was playing with two other children, Morton said in a Monday news conference.

Gould said in an interview Friday that Merchant told him the dog had attacked his daughter’s other dogs, but Gould still was trying to confirm that.

When Gould arrived on the scene Saturday evening, the dog was chained in the yard. Asked whether the dog had escaped the chain before or during the attack, Gould said he didn’t think so.

“No, it was still hooked, I believe. That’s what I was told,” he said.

Chaining or tethering a dog can contribute to aggressive behavior, according to Judy A. Moore, a certified dog behavioral consultant who runs Canine Behavior Counseling LLC in Cumberland.

She said chaining a dog “increases the dog’s frustration and arousal,” she said. “If you have a laid-back, incredibly patient dog, it could be fine; but if you have a high-energy, really persistent or anti-social dog that is tethered, you are going to see a change in behavior.”

She said, though, that a dog’s aggressive actions toward another dog in the past do not necessarily mean it should be considered dangerous to humans. “There are many, many dogs that are dog-aggressive that are lovely with humans,” she said. “There’s no flat answer. You need more information, more observation of the dog.”

‘CHILD DIED ON SCENE’

Gould said there were adults in the yard at the time of the attack, but that they were doing work, possibly on a deck, and he wasn’t sure if they witnessed it.

Several times during Friday’s interview, Gould said he couldn’t clarify or elaborate on specifics of the report, including a summary of the attack that read, “Dog (indecipherable word) child left alone, dog attacked, child died on scene.” It’s not clear if the word between dog and child is “and” or “on,” indicating the dog was left alone with the child, or the child was left alone. Gould said he didn’t know which it was.

“I was pretty shaken up when I wrote that report,” he said. He said his wife, Barbara, helped him prepare the report and the case has been a difficult one for him to work on.

A handwritten note on the bottom of the first page of the bite report under the dog’s identification information says, “Attacked her other dog. Several times.”

Gould said that information came from Merchant. He said the statement is still under investigation and he is trying to get in touch with an animal control officer in Vermont to confirm the dog’s history. The Morning Sentinel’s copy of the report is cut off, so the words aren’t clear, but Gould and an employee at the Town Office confirmed the wording.

The report lists the dog’s owner as Merchant and lists a Vermont phone number for the veterinarian who administered the dog’s latest rabies shot, in May 2015. A woman who answered the phone at the veterinary office couldn’t find a record for the dog or the owner listed on the bite report.

Merchant did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

The name Amber, with two telephone numbers, was written in the margin of the report, but Gould couldn’t say what the relevance was or confirm that she is the prior owner of the dog. Phone calls to those numbers were not returned Friday.

Gould said Thursday that the dog had belonged to Merchant’s daughter in Vermont, whom he did not identify, and she had given it to Merchant to care for two or three months ago.

Gould said his communication with Merchant and with Hunter Bragg’s father, Jason Bragg, has been limited since the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office has taken the lead on the investigation. The report indicates a criminal case is pending. The response “unknown” is written after, “Has animal been ill/acted strangely or bitten anyone recently?”

The dog was identified as Dakota by Gould on Thursday, though the report lists the dog’s name as both Koda and Coda. The dog is described in the report as “brindle with white face” and says it was one and a half years old.

The report shows the dog’s license in Vermont expired in December 2015. The Corinna town manager said earlier this week that the dog was not registered with the town.

Gould said Thursday that the dog had belonged to Merchant’s daughter in Vermont and was brought to Merchant two months ago, and the report confirms the dog had been “2-3 months” in Maine.

Until the attack, Gould said, he had never dealt with the dog.

The dog was euthanized at a veterinary click in Brewer, according to the report, which shows that Merchant gave permission to the town either to euthanize the dog or to give it to a new owner on Saturday, the day of the attack.

NOT BORN DANGEROUS

Moore, the dog obedience expert, said many factors make a dog dangerous, or inclined to bite, but the key to understanding a dog’s behavior is understanding its “core characteristics,” or the traits it was born with as a puppy.

“If you line up certain core characteristics and environmental stressors along with poor socialization, poor training, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, it can create a perfect storm.”

Puppies are not born dangerous, but they may show characteristics such as shyness or fear that need to be taken into consideration by the humans that interact with them.

Signs a dog is becoming anxious or stressed, Moore said, often can be seen in a dog’s body language and include pacing, avoiding interaction or walking away, wide mouth panting, ears pinned back or tail tucked under its legs.

She wouldn’t comment on whether pit bulls — which are not a breed but an umbrella category for several different breeds of terriers — are often cited as dangerous dogs.

“I believe all dogs can live in a human society if the dog is given the right socialization, right tools and right skills to be successful,” she said. “I don’t want to get into the specifics, just because people take it so differently. We know there are many lovely pit bulls in our environment and I believe those dogs, and all dogs, if given the right tools, can live in our society without aggression.

“All dogs at a young age, all puppies, if given the right tools and socialization, can live happily in a human society.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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