No Probable Cause To Charge Veterinarian With Animal Cruelty

David Creed •

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Scott White's signs at his beachfront property off Little Neck Way.

There will be no charges brought against Little Neck Way homeowner and veterinarian Scott White after Nantucket District Court clerk magistrate Don Hart found there was not enough evidence to issue a complaint against White for animal cruelty during a probable cause hearing Thursday afternoon.

The incident in question occurred on August 13 after White pepper sprayed island landscaper Ryan Conway’s dog after it allegedly ran onto his property. You can read our initial report here in which Conway sought animal cruelty charges while White argued his actions were necessary and out of self-defense.

The Current was in attendance for the hearing after requesting permission from Hart to have access, which he granted.

It began with Nantucket Police Detective Keith Mansfield reading from the police report as well as providing pictures of the dog, the pepper spray used, and a brief three- to four-second video taken by White in which dogs barking in the background were audible as well as White telling pedestrians “you guys need to back up.”

Mansfield told Hart during the hearing that after reviewing records, the police had never been called to any incident involving Conway’s dog prior to this August incident. He added that whether White intended to cause any harm to Conway’s dog or not, the reality is that he did harm the dog. To justify this point, he cited Commonwealth vs Stanley F. Szewczyk, which was a case decided in 2016.

“Specific intent to cause harm is not required; decisional law makes clear that in circumstances involving the direct infliction of pain on an animal all that must be proved is that the defendant intentionally and knowingly did acts which were plainly of a nature to inflict unnecessary pain. The defendant’s guilt did not depend upon whether he thought he was unnecessarily cruel, but upon whether he was so in fact.”

While the Commonwealth did not have to prove the harm was intentional for a cruelty of animals charge to proceed, they did need to provide reasonable evidence that the defendant intentionally and knowingly committed acts that were “plainly of a nature as would violate the statute.” According to Massachusetts law, the term “cruelty” means inflicting severe or unnecessary pain upon an animal without any justifiable cause.

In other words, there needed to be evidence that indicated White used the pepper spray for no other reason than to spray the dog and cause harm to it, and that the dog had in fact been harmed.

White then had his chance to speak and provided his side of the story. He was adamant that his actions were purely out of self-defense for both him and his own dog. He argued that Conway’s allegations are “totally false."

“Rather than falsely accuse me he actually owes me a debt of gratitude,” White said. “By spraying his dog (it prevented) his dog, my dog, or me from being bitten” before going on to say that if he or his dog had been bitten, it could have resulted in Conway being sued.

White said because of dog owners letting their unleashed dogs onto his property “on a regular basis,” he is always concerned about them attacking his dogs.

“I am a veterinarian who has trained dogs professionally for years,” said White, an independent veterinarian who is not affiliated with Offshore Animal Hospital. “I consider myself a dog behavior expert. I can tell you when owners let their dogs run loose, they are telling that dog that the area is theirs to defend. As Detective Mansfield said earlier, dogs can be sweet to people. But they can behave extremely differently when they are in proximity with another dog. You cannot use (a) dog's behavior with people to determine how it might behave to another dog.”

White added that using pepper spray is not animal abuse when used in appropriate circumstances. He said that he and Conway had an exchange the day before in which White was sitting in his chair when an unleashed dog ran onto his property. He said his dog and this unknown dog exchanged “dog words.” White said he then walked onto the beach and yelled out asking whose dog it was.

Conway then approached White telling him it was his dog and called it over to him. White said he told Conway to keep his dog off his beach and on a leash, which prompted Conway to allegedly give White the middle finger.

The next day White said there was another encounter with Conway’s dog when it allegedly started charging toward him showing “all the evidence of an attack." He said he sat back down in his chair and lowered his posture to try to get the dog to stop its attack. As the dog came within six feet of him, he pepper sprayed it in the face.

“The dog retreated to the beach and with the attack defused, I went down onto the beach,” White said of what happened after he used the pepper spray. “No one was on the beach. Everyone was in the NCF parking lot. Doing the responsible thing, I hollered probably four or five times 'this dog is sprayed’ so he could deliver aid to his dog and not contaminate themselves or someone else in the process.”

White said Conway and two others rushed down from the parking lot. White said Conway told him “word for word he was going to f*** me up and I wouldn’t see it coming.”

White said a few days later he had a conversation with one of the responding police officers in which she allegedly “validated that it was justified for me to use pepper spray on the attacking dog.”

White concluded his prepared remarks by saying again that the allegations against him were "totally false” and doubled down that his actions were purely out of self-defense from what he perceived was a dog attack.

“In summary, Ryan Conway let his dog run on the beach two days in a row uncontrolled and unattended despite the leash law and being instructed to keep the dog off my property,” White concluded. “By letting his dog run loose he gave his dog the message and the opportunity to attack - this occurring while I'm on my property with my dog. I pepper-gelled his dog in self-defense. It is legal and acceptable to use pepper spray or gel to stop an attacking dog.

“If anybody should be held accountable for this incident, it should be Ryan Conway.”

Conway did not testify at the probable cause hearing. Hart concluded the hearing by reading each of the elements that constitute animal cruelty before issuing his decision.

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