PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- There is a dog on death row here.
Prince, a big black mostly Labrador retriever has been officially decreed "vicious," but has been described by his owner as "just a big baby." The debate over his fate has convulsed not only this old seaport city, but much of the conservative, government-hating, dog-loving Granite State.
"My gosh, we just got swamped with all kinds of letters and calls from people," Mayor Eileen Foley said. "People who don't want him killed, people who want to adopt him. It's been overwhelming.
"Just like everybody else, I feel it was unfortunate," said the mayor, the 78-year-old doyenne of the Democratic Party here, who is in her eighth term. "Nevertheless, this is out of the city's hands. The only thing we could do is to go through with the law. I mean, there was a hearing."
Prince's supporters contend that the hearing in which the dog was convicted of viciousness was a Star Chamber affair, conducted by officials with no real knowledge of the defendant. But, even the dog's most ardent defenders concede that there is one less rooster in town because of him.
Adding to the drama is the refusal of the man expected to be the executioner to carry out the death sentence. "I will not put Prince to sleep," declared Dr. Stephen Askin, the veterinarian at the Portsmouth Animal Hospital, where Prince is being held. "And no one on my staff will."
The dog has a lawyer, of course. Peter Marsh hopes to save Prince at a final hearing in Portsmouth District Court Tuesday, perhaps by working out an agreement allowing the dog to be deported to some rural area. Marsh said he did not want to try the matter in the media.
"I don't want to talk about it," he said in a very brief telephone interview. "This has caused a lot of hot tempers, and I'm trying to calm things."
What happened, according to published accounts, government documents and interviews with officials and people close to the dog, was that Prince was running around his neighborhood, as was his wont, when he came upon an apartment house that had a pond, enclosed by a chain link fence, with a little menagerie of ducks, geese and chickens.
Acquaintances say Prince is a high-energy dog who hurled himself at the fence and alarmed the birds, prompting one rooster to fly over the fence.
Prince did what Labrador retrievers are trained to do -- he grabbed the bird. The rooster died.
Witnesses seized Prince and called for the animal control officer.
City ordinances called for a Vicious Dog Hearing, conducted by the police chief, a veterinarian and a citizen appointed by the mayor.
Condemned, Prince was ordered confined to a big cage and to be kept on a three-foot leash when out. If he got loose, it was a fine. Escape again, and the dog would be destroyed. Escape, he did.
Prince's owner, Margaret Kristiansen, has been fighting the sentence, protesting that Prince has never bitten people.
New Hampshire has a death penalty for people, too, but it has caused nowhere near this controversy. When the television station in Manchester, WMUR-TV, conducted a poll on the issue, 90 percent of those who called in -- 528 people -- said the dog should be spared.
Pub Date: 2/02/97