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Facebookers seek to commute dog’s death sentence

Skippy (left), who has been ordered euthanized for twice attacking the year-old granddaughter of his owner, Thomas Locke, has been quarantined at the town’s expense for the past two months. Skippy (left), who has been ordered euthanized for twice attacking the year-old granddaughter of his owner, Thomas Locke, has been quarantined at the town’s expense for the past two months.
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / February 23, 2011

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FREETOWN — Skippy, a golden retriever who bit a year-old girl, has been ordered euthanized, but the dog’s owner has not given up on trying to save his pet’s life, in an effort that has turned into a Facebook frenzy.

“I love that dog, and I know that he’ll probably never come back here, but I have to do as much as I can to save him,’’ said Thomas Locke, standing at his front door yesterday. As he spoke, his granddaughter Jordan, the victim, ran back and forth through the living room behind him, laughing.

The dog’s biting and scratching of the little girl in two incidents was discussed during selectmen’s meetings. News of what happened on Tanglewood Drive traveled through town and beyond, sparking a “Free Skippy’’ Facebook page, along with concern for children in Locke’s neighborhood. Thousands of people have voiced support for Skippy on Facebook and asked that he be spared.

Town officials have said that Skippy has a vicious disposition, which led him to lash out twice at Jordan inside her grandfather’s ranch-style house. The first time, in October, the dog bit her on the face, causing a laceration that required a dozen stitches, according to court records.

“While he was digging at her face, he was barking and growling viciously,’’ said the toddler’s mother, Cassandra Locke, in a statement to police. She and her daughter have lived with her father intermittently during the past year.

The chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Lawrence Ashley, said that after the first incident, Thomas Locke, a 61-year-old disabled Marine Corps veteran, was ordered to have the dog neutered and quarantined at home so it would not be alone with Jordan. But four days before Christmas, Cassandra Locke made a 911 call to police, telling them Skippy had growled and snapped at Jordan as the girl walked by, puncturing the toddler’s right index finger.

The order to put the dog down will be stayed while Locke’s lawyer, Vince Cragin of New Bedford, and the town’s lawyer, Brian Winner, meet to discuss alternatives, including returning Skippy to his breeder in Canada. That option comes with the stipulation that Locke never own a dog again in Freetown. In addition, he must reimburse the town for keeping Skippy in quarantine since Dec. 21.

Asked whether Skippy, a 90-pound, 4-year-old dog, might be euthanized if no agreement is made between the dog’s owner and the town, Ashley said in a telephone interview yesterday that it remains a possibility. But, he said: “I hope it doesn’t come to that. I don’t think that anyone wants for that to happen.’’

Tomorrow at 6 p.m., at the Freetown Elementary School, the Board of Selectmen plans to review the case and decide how to proceed.

Although town officials say the girl’s injuries were caused by bites, Thomas Locke says Skippy merely scratched his granddaughter.

“The sad part is that Mr. Locke should have taken the steps we told him to after the first incident,’’ Ashley said. “He was clearly instructed by the town to do so, yet he failed to. He’s been an irresponsible dog owner from the time he brought that dog across the border.’’

Last month, nearby resident Tracy Caramanica e-mailed the town’s health agent, Paul Bourgeois, saying, “I know it has attacked a small child and I myself have two small children . . . the safety of all and any child must come first. . . . I do not wish to see any harm come to this animal but I do not agree that this dog should be allowed to live in an area where there are children close by.’’

The Canadian breeder, Maureen Farquhar, also sent a letter to town officials, stating that she would take Skippy back to Willow Lane Farms in Quebec. “This dog comes from very well-tempered lines and the [mother] of this dog saved my son’s life,’’ she wrote.

Cassandra Locke found Skippy on the Web four years ago, and her father drove 740 miles to Québec to buy him.

“Obviously, I’m upset over what happened because my granddaughter got hurt,’’ he said. “Right now, I’m just trying to save my dog’s life.’’

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.