Three dogs deemed vicious following attack in Portsmouth

Ruling requires owner to follow safeguards so incident doesn’t happen again

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/17/24

Three dogs owned by a Grain Terrace woman have been deemed vicious just over a month after they escaped from their yard and attacked a leashed dog that was being walked in the neighborhood.

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Three dogs deemed vicious following attack in Portsmouth

Ruling requires owner to follow safeguards so incident doesn’t happen again


PORTSMOUTH — Three dogs owned by a Grain Terrace woman have been deemed vicious just over a month after they escaped from their yard and attacked a leashed dog that was being walked in the neighborhood.

The three-member Portsmouth Vicious Dog Hearing Panel, following a well-attended hearing at Town Hall Thursday afternoon, ruled that the three Cane Corsos owned by Cassie Halton met the requirement under Rhode Island statute to be deemed vicious. 

None of the dogs were ordered to be put down. Earl Newman of Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA), who led the panel, said Halton must take steps to ensure the safety of people and pets in the surrounding area. That includes obtaining $100,000 insurance policies on each dog, tattooing or microchipping them, placing a warning sign on the property declaring the owner has vicious dogs, leashing and muzzling the dogs when they’re off the property, and other restrictions.

Halton, who had five days from Thursday to appeal the ruling to District Court, said she and her husband have already taken steps to secure her property so the dogs don’t escape again. “I want the panel to know that I’m sorry this incident happened. My family’s doing everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she said.

The vicious dog panel has met 12 times sine January 2017, gathering sporadically as the need arises. This particular hearing garnered more attention than usual, however, due to the severity of the injuries to the victim dog, as well as the fact that the panel was determining if three dogs with the same owner were vicious. At only one other hearing, in July 2020, were multiple dogs scrutinized— a female old English bulldog and a male Great Dane owned by the same person.

On Thursday the panel heard differing accounts of what happened on Saturday, April 13, when Kimberly Cipolla’s leashed dog was attacked by Halton’s three dogs.

Cipolla said she was walking her dog on Dorthy Avenue at about 8:30 a.m. and was about to turn right onto Leander Avenue to head back home, as she usually does. “I was about to make that turn when out of the left corner of my eye, about three blocks away, I saw three large dogs in the road,” she said.

Cipolla was aware Halton had three dogs, but she had never seen them before, she said. She said she had heard they were unfriendly, and stayed away from the home. On the morning they got loose, Halton’s pets did not initially pause and “greet” hers as dogs often do, she said.

“They immediately charged, grabbed my dog from three sides, starting to pull us. I was holding onto the leash as hard as I could,” said Cipolla. “I had turned right toward Leander, but they were coming so fast. I was just screaming as loud as I could. I literally thought they were going to kill my dog in front of my eyes.”

She was dragged across Leander and back down Dorothy before she could regain her footing on a lawn, she told the panel. “Other people came to assist and tried to get the dogs off my dog. But they were latched on tight,” Cipolla said, noting that one of Halton’s dogs was latched on to the right side and ear of her pet, while another had the back of his neck and the third, his left side.

“I was bit on both hands,” she said, noting she wasn’t sure which dog — including her own — had afflicted the wound. Cipolla and her dog were both bleeding, so she asked a neighbor for a towel. “There was blood everywhere.”

Newman said he saw photographs of Cipolla’s dog after the attack. “They’re pretty horrific,” he said — perhaps the worst injuries he’d ever seen on a dog that survived such an attack.

Cipolla said her dog, which spent eight days in an animal hospital, is still on the mend. He had to go back to the hospital shortly after his release because tending to him was more than Cipolla could manage, she said, and her dog has also had multiple outpatient visits. 

Owner’s version of attack

Halton acknowledged that her son accidentally left a gate open in her yard, but blamed Cipolla’s dog for the injuries. 

Halton said she immediately went after her dogs — an adult female, Lucy, and two puppies, Red (female) and Lenny (male). When she got to the location, Halton said the dogs were not engaged but were “bouncing around” Cipolla’s dog and were probably overstimulated because of all the confusion.

“They were around her. Her dog grabbed onto my calf and that’s when Lucy grabbed onto her dog’s ear. But as soon as I was set free, my dogs fell back,” she said. “Everything was fine up until I got bit.”

A witness, however, appeared to support the contention that Halton’s dogs were overly aggressive. Brian Freitas prefaced his remarks by saying he didn’t want to see any dogs put down. “This is going to cause a lot of contention in the neighborhood,” he said.

Freitas said he was about three blocks away when he heard screaming and headed over to the scene. He said Lucy had Cipolla’s dog firmly by the neck.

“Lucy, the gray dog, had this dog and it was the worse I’d ever seen,” said Freitas, who acknowledged he didn’t know what precipitated the attack. “I jumped on the dog like a horse. The dog took me and dragged me and wouldn’t let go. They’re big strong dogs and whether they were overstimulated and that’s what happened … but they wouldn’t let go.”

Eventually, a neighbor brought a leash which was wrapped around the dog’s neck, and they put her in the police cruiser. Red also went into the vehicle, but Lenny had run off.

Statement disputed

Another issue that was disputed concerned Halton’s original statement to police. The panel was informed Halton had told police she saw her dogs attacking the leashed dog after she ran outside. Kathryn Hopkins, an attorney representing Halton, said Halton denies saying that. Animal Control Officer Elizabeth Futoma, however, said that was what Halton told her to the best of her recollection.

Hopkins also told the panel that her client’s dogs, all of which have been professionally trained, shouldn’t be deemed vicious since they were merely protecting a human being.

Before the panel ruled, Newman noted the three unleashed dogs committed the attack a “significant distance away” from Halton’s property, and that Cipolla’s dog didn’t appear to provoke them.

RISPCA, SPCA, Portsmouth animal control, Portsmouth Police dog attack

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