Town proposes new animal ordinance as vicious dog case moves forward

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The selectboard is considering the adoption of a new animal ordinance after fielding an increased number of dog-related complaints in the past two years, according to a memo from town manager Dawn Francis.

“It’s certainly an improvement,” Colchester Police Lt. Doug Allen told the board during its July 11 meeting. “From a safety standpoint, I think it [defines] vicious dogs better and helps us bring those issues to you quicker.”

The proposed regulations include definitions of terms like “enforcement officer,” and “potentially vicious dog.” The latter states the designation “shall not apply if the dog was protecting or defending itself” or if another animal or person provoked the dog.

One notable change requires only one written complaint about a potentially vicious dog before the selectboard can proceed with an investigation. Previously, boards were required to collect at least three complaints before moving forward, Allen said.

The ordinance also lists “nuisances,” including barking and running at-large, and clearly defines financial penalties and “grounds for impoundment.”

The base of the order came from Vermont League of Cities and Towns model, Allen said, and will help other town departments, like parks and recreation, enforce dog-related rules — especially waste removal in public areas.

“I don’t think the current ordinance was unworkable; we just think this is a better product,” Allen said, noting he didn’t believe the new rules would necessarily increase funding needed for impoundments.

Generally referencing a past case, selectman Herb Downing said it was “unfortunate” the dog in question was permitted to remain quarantined in the owners’ home while awaiting action.

The new ordinance, Allen said, better addresses procedures for handling vicious dog attacks that happen inside an owners’ residence.

On Friday, Colchester residents Jason Hathaway and Stephanie Menard appeared before Judge Robert A. Mello in Chittenden Superior Court — Civil Division, to appeal the euthanasia order handed down by the local selectboard earlier this year.

That case came before the board in March after a Milton resident said Hathaway’s black Labrador-pit bull mix, Marley, bit his 11-year-old daughter in the face during a birthday party at the family’s Colchester residence.

After a nearly four-hour judicial-style hearing with testimony from several witnesses, the selectboard ordered the dog “humanely destroyed.”

Hathaway quickly appealed the ruling, in one document stating his family understood Marley should be muzzled before leaving the house and should be confined to an “off limits” area when guests were visiting.

In an interview before the status conference on Friday, Menard and Hathaway questioned the validity of complaint letters originally presented to the board. The couple said they were continuing to abide by the quarantine order put in place by the town months ago, but reported their dog was beginning to show signs of depression.

Speaking via phone at the status conference, town attorney Brian Monaghan asked the judge to forgo holding a new trial and instead consider ruling based on the proceedings held at the town offices in March.

No further court appearances were posted to the calendar at press time.

A public hearing for the new ordinance will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the Outer Bay Conference Room at the town offices.