Yet another dispute at the Madaket Harbor beach off Little Neck Way in August ended with a dog getting pepper sprayed by homeowner and veterinarian Scott White, who is now facing potential charges of animal cruelty.
The dog owner - island landscaper Ryan Conway - who was headed to the popular beach for a picnic with family and friends, is also facing a probable cause hearing for trespassing.
The incident, which occurred on Aug. 13, is just the latest at White’s property off Little Neck Way, where he has erected “no trespassing” signs and rope running down into the water at his beachfront home to dissuade beachgoers from crossing his property. White has had numerous confrontations with people walking at the beach, including a July 2021 incident in which he allegedly pushed a 79-year-old woman who pressed charges against White that were later dismissed.
White told the Current this week that Conway “is lying” about what happened, and that the incident is actually about an unleashed dog rather than having anything to do with beach access.
Conway said his dog - a two-year-old golden retriever named Ariel - is “the cutest, most well-behaved dog” on the island and while she was not on a leash that day, she was not threatening anyone and certainly did not deserve to be pepper sprayed.
A police report indicated officers responded to Little Neck Way around 4:42 p.m. on Aug. 13th for a “report of a dog being pepper sprayed.” White told the responding officers that Conway’s dog had come onto his property “barking and growling at him” and that he feared it was going to attack him. After pepper spraying the dog, he then went down the beach to inform its owner - Conway - about what had happened. White “stated they all began screaming at him and threatening him.”
The officers spoke to Conway, according to the report, who admitted the dog was off-leash and running around on the beach when White allegedly “ran down to the low tide mark and sprayed the dog with pepper spray.” In his report, Officer Andrew McNeilly noted that Conway’s dog “did not seem vicious; was sitting in a calm manner and had no reaction to the officers’ presence.”
While the incident ended that day with no arrests and White simply seeking a no-trespass order (which was secured), a subsequent incident three days later on Little Neck Way between some of the involved parties and White in which “dirty looks” were exchanged led to both sides seeking to press criminal charges.
The probable cause hearings for both White (on animal cruelty charges) and Conway (on trespassing charges) are scheduled to be heard Thursday in Nantucket District Court by clerk magistrate Don Hart, who will determine if there is probable cause to issue a complaint.
“We were going there with our children and friends to have a little picnic,” Conway recalled this week. “My two-year-old golden retriever is the cutest, most well-behaved dog. She was off-leash and went up to his property, which is the beach, right up to the grass line. She wasn’t barking at all, she’s extremely well-mannered and was just being a regular, good dog. He must have had pepper spray on him and he just sprayed her. That’s pretty cruel coming from a veterinarian. He said he was threatened for his life but there’s no way.”
White told the Current he was sitting on his beach chair at the edge of his property with his dog Dune when Conway’s dog came running, growling, and barking up the beach trail that leads to home. White said he felt as if the dog was ready to attack, and that both he and his dog were in danger, leading him to use the pepper spray.
White had pepper spray with him at the beach, he said, because dogs running off-leash and coming onto his property have been a problem in the past. White emphasized that pepper spray is an acceptable deterrent in such situations because they do not do any permanent damage to the dog and that that approach had been endorsed by the Nantucket Police Department’s animal control officer. He added that photos taken by the responding officers showed where he had sprayed Conway’s dog, which was well onto his property, up the path, and near the area where he had been sitting with his dog.
“This isn’t about beach access at my beach, this is about the leash law and a dog being off-leash,” White said.
In Massachusetts, beachfront property owners have rights to their property down to the mean low-water line, but the public retains the right to use the beach for “fishing, fowling, and navigation.” The state’s confusing beach rights laws - dating back to the colonial ordinances of 1641-1647, have led to some disputes over the years, but on Nantucket, none more so than with White at the Little Neck Way property. From July 2019 to August 2022, Nantucket police responded to at least 37 calls regarding trespassing at White’s property (we don’t have the numbers for this past summer).
While the latest incident occurred more than two months ago, the Nantucket Police Department rejected the Current’s public records request for the police report on the incident that was filed on Aug. 17th, several days after the incident occurred. The Current appealed the decision, and the Secretary of State’s office ruled in favor of our appeal and ordered the police department to release the record. After Nantucket Police Department deputy chief Charles Gibson filed a request for reconsideration of that decision, the state’s supervisor of records Manza Arthur rejected his arguments and ruled on Oct. 5 that the records must be released within 10 business days. The police report was finally sent to the Current on Oct. 16.