CORINNA, Maine — The adult male pit bull that took the life of a Bangor boy Saturday in a vicious attack outside a Moody Mills Road home had previously lived at the property and recently been returned to the home after living with someone else, Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton said Wednesday.
Questions about whether the dog had a violent history and why it was returned to the home of Gary Merchant Jr., 45, are still unanswered in the criminal investigation, the sheriff said.
“That is a major part of the investigation — who returned it, when was it returned, where had it been and was there any issues while it was gone,” Morton said of the dog, which since has been euthanized.
Bangor resident Hunter Bragg, 7, was killed at Merchant’s home when he was attacked by the dog while playing outside with two other children around 5:15 p.m. Saturday, the sheriff said earlier this week. Bragg was visiting Merchant with his father, who was inside the home at the time of the attack.
No other details about the investigation, including whether the dog was tied up, have been released.
The term “pit bull” refers to three breeds: the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier.
Dogs, no matter what breed, should not be left alone with young children, according to Robert Rubin of Mannerly Mutts, a canine obedience school in York.
“They should not be left unsupervised,” Rubin said Wednesday. “It’s a recipe for disaster and, unfortunately, that is what happened.”
Children “don’t have the understanding” and often miss warning signs that dogs are upset.
“If a dog is growling — that’s a sign,” Rubin said. “If they show their teeth, or have raised withers — where the hair is raised on their shoulders — those are other signs. However, just like each person is different, each dog is an individual.”
The dog owner should have kept an eye on the children, especially if there were any questions about prior violence, said Rubin, adding that, “If it was returned, that says something.”
About 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States, and dog-bite related injuries are highest for those age 5 to 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s a human error, but the dog is getting blamed for it,” Rubin said.
According to Serena Bemis-Goodall, town manager of Corinna, Merchant has several dogs that each are registered with the town.
“The seven [other] dogs that Mr. Merchant owns are all registered. I can tell you that,” Bemis-Goodall said Wednesday. “I don’t know anything about that dog.”
The dog was not registered with Corinna, the town manager said, adding that the only dog-related complaints town officials have dealt with at Merchant’s property have had to do with noise.
“It’s a tragic, tragic event,” she said, sending her condolences to the boy’s family and all others involved.
With the number of dogs Merchant owns, he qualifies as a kennel under state rules, but he is not required to register with the town if he doesn’t choose to do so, Bemis-Goodall said.
“It’s not anything a person has to get,” she said. “It saves them money [by registering dogs as a group instead of individually].”
However, if more than one puppy is sold in less than a year’s time, Merchant would be required to register as a vendor, according to state law.
“A person may not advertise for sale, sell or exchange for value more than one cat or dog under the age of 6 months in a 12-month period unless that person has a valid animal shelter, kennel, breeding kennel or pet shop license or a valid vendor’s license,” Maine rules regarding the sale of cats and dogs indicate.
Bemis-Goodall said Merchant has no business license registered with the town, and she does not know if he is a dog breeder.
The U.S. saw 34 dog bite-related fatalities in 2015, and pit bulls contributed to 28, or 82 percent of the total, according to Dogsbite.org.
“I don’t suspect any new developments for a few weeks,” Morton said of the investigation. “We will be waiting for the [medical examiner’s] report, veterinarian and others.”
The autopsy on Bragg was completed on Monday, “but the case is pending further studies,” Mark Belserene, spokesman for the state medical examiner said in a Wednesday email.
“We currently have two investigators assigned and several others that are assisting as needed,” Morton said, describing the case as a “sensitive, complicated investigation.”
“This was a tough one for all,” the sheriff said. “[It’s] a tragedy for this little boy, his family and the community. Not to mention those who investigate.”
Bragg’s aunt set up a GoFundMe post for funeral expenses.
A memorial service to celebrate his life is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Hermon Baptist Church, located at 2496 Route 2, with the Rev. Garnett Chute officiating, according to his obituary.