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Dog in long-running Norwich dispute spared, headed to animal sanctuary

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Norwich — Dolly, the pit bull held at the Norwich dog pound for the past seven years under a state destruction order, has been granted a reprieve and will live out the rest of her life at a “wonderful, peaceful, quiet rural sanctuary,” the attorney representing the former owner said Tuesday.

Attorney Thompson Page, who represents the dog's former owner Sheri Speer, withdrew Speer’s latest appeal of the destruction order on the eve of Tuesday’s scheduled oral arguments in Connecticut Appellate Court. Thompson told The Day that a settlement has been reached with the city to allow Dolly, now 8, to be transferred permanently, with no adoption, to an as-yet-unidentified animal sanctuary in Connecticut.

“Dolly obviously spent seven of her eight years in the pound,” Page said, “and I think everyone understood this was the best for everybody involved. We’re all pleased.”

Dolly’s mother, Skyler, had been impounded under the same destruction order. But the 12-year-old dog was euthanized Aug. 2 by a veterinarian following a cancer diagnosis.

The two dogs were held at the pound since Oct. 8, 2013, following a violent attack on two small children and their grandmother in front of Speer’s home, 151 Talman St.

Lisa Hall was walking her three young grandchildren from their home at 123 Talman St., a rental house owned by Speer, to the Bishop School playground. According to police reports and testimony at appeal hearings, one dog knocked over the baby stroller carrying then 9-month-old Marquice Downing and bit the baby’s forehead. The baby’s sister, Marlena Downing, then almost 5, was hailed as a heroine after she stuck her arm out to protect the baby. The dog grabbed her arm, tearing flesh, breaking her arm and inflicting bite wounds down to the bone, according to court records. Marlena Downing needed screws to repair her broken arm and spent four days in the hospital.

A passerby stopped his car, grabbed a stick and struck the dog, while Hall kicked the dog and was bitten on her leg.

During the attack, Marlena’s twin sister, Audrena, ran screaming toward her home. The second dog chased her. The girl banged on the door of another tenant, and the woman let the child enter. The girl hid behind a couch until police arrived.

Police could not discern which of the dogs of similar appearance attacked the children and which chased the child down the street, a key point in attorney Page’s argument against the destruction order. Both dogs exhibited extremely aggressive behavior during their seizure by city police and were under limited contact orders at the city pound.

Norwich police Chief Patrick Daley declined to comment on the settlement Tuesday, saying he is awaiting the written agreement. He said the dog will be transferred once the agreement is signed by the two parties.

Speer has been fighting the destruction order since the incident occurred, first before the state Department of Agriculture and then to Superior Court and state Appellate Court. Superior Court judges twice upheld the ruling, and her Appellate Court appeal was dismissed last January, but the judge agreed to reconsider the case.

Speer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Page, who has been representing Speer in the case since 2017, said he worked through some animal rescue specialists, who knew of the no-kill sanctuary “and they responded very positively.” He said the sanctuary operator is serious about animal rescue and likes to keep a low profile about her operation.

“Sometimes it is difficult (to find a place), but we were grateful and exceedingly pleased it worked out,” Page said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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