By Lisa Loomis

Waitsfield's animal control officer can issue tickets to dog owners whose pets are violating the town's dog ordinance.

The tickets are civil infractions that are enforced by the Vermont Judicial Bureau. "Any law enforcement official, constable or dog officer may act as an issuing municipal official and issue and pursue before the Vermont Judicial Bureau a municipal complaint for any dog found to have violated any provision of the ordinance," the ordinance reads.

The first offense costs $50, the second offense $100 and the third offense $150. Dog owners who are issued tickets have the option to pay a waiver fee if they choose not to contest their ticket. That penalty is $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense and $75 for the third. Subsequent offenses will be ticketed at $200 and the waiver fee will be $100.

The select board, at its January 12 meeting, discussed the issue of how to handle at large dog situations with dog warden and animal control officer Marie Leotta. Leotta and the board discussed the town's practice of taking dogs that could not be easily reunited with their owners to be boarded at Valley Animal Hospital where the owner is charged a boarding fee and a town penalty fee.

The board discussed the fact that issuing civil fines through the Vermont Judicial Bureau would mean that contested tickets would require a town representative to be present during any hearings or disputes.

Other towns, such as Warren, have a dog ordinance that includes the ability to issue tickets up to $500 for each infraction and those tickets are paid directly to the Warren town treasurer. In Moretown, the animal control officer may also ticket dog owners and those tickets are paid directly to the town within five days. The penalties in Moretown are $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second and $100 for the third with the penalty for subsequent offenses also $100.

Leotta said she thinks the fines will help keep more dogs at home and also said that stricter policies about what happens when lost dogs are found are necessary. As a case in point, she referred to an incident that played out on the social media site Front Porch Forum earlier this week when a woman posted about losing her golden retriever and the owner of a nearby dog grooming business posted about having one dropped off to her. The posts went back and forth between dog owner and business owner with references made to Leotta being called.

Leotta said she took issue with the business owner accepting the lost dog and reiterated that all lost dogs were to be taken to Valley Animal Hospital. She said that in the past she had reached out in a variety of ways to reunite lost dogs with their owners, but she is no longer going to do so if those who lose or find dogs don't call her directly.

"Let's say the dog owner does not read Front Porch Forum; how is posting on a nonsanctioned website going to help?" Leotta wrote in a post on the forum.

The select board will revisit the issue of the dog ordinance in February.