After hearing a request from the town’s animal control officer asking that a dog be removed from its owners and rehomed, the Waitsfield Select Board is deliberating on next steps.
On Monday, November 14, animal control officer Fred Messer detailed the repeated complaints about a large bloodhouse mix named Otis who is owned by AJ Wimble and Ashley Metevier of North Road.
Messer, who is also a select board member, had recused himself from the board’s hearing on Otis.
“The town has a dog ordinance. It’s not an easy issue. Most of us are all dog lovers and we take complaints very seriously. We also take the concerns of neighbors very seriously, board vice-chair Brian Shupe said before yielding the floor to Messer.
Messer told the board that over the past year and a half he’d been receiving complaints about a large dog running at large, without a collar and a nuisance dog. He said he’d received 29 complaints from Waitsfield residents about the violations.
“There have been many more complaints from people who didn’t log them. The complaints all have similarities such as scratching on people’s door, scratching cars, urinating on lawn furniture, eating other dogs’ food, a pound of hamburger was taken off a countertop after breaking through a screen door, scaring other dogs, jumping and barking and damaging cars and running inside if the door was open. Otis is not a vicious dog, but it might seem so to a young child,” Messer reported.
Messer said he was not going to charge the owners with cruelty to animal but said, “I think a credible case could be made.”
Messer provided the board with letters from eight local people affirming that Otis regularly breaks through screen doors, scratches cars and showed up at the Spring Hill School.
“I have picked him up running at large at least six times and delivered him to Valley Animal Hospital with no collar or tags each time,” Messer said.
Ultimately, Messer asked the select board to cause Otis to be delivered to him for the purpose of rehoming him “to the best home that I can find for him.”
Shupe asked for comments from the public who’d encountered Otis and Spring Hill Road resident Alice Peal said that a neighborhood group email chain was full of encounters with and complaints about Otis a year ago.
“Otis was here maybe for two days and had done similar things like busting through screen doors to get into people’s houses. One person fed him because he felt he was underweight and looking for food. The biggest problem was Otis trying to be a student at Spring Hill School,” Peal said.
Karen Pearson, one of Wimble and Metevier’s closest neighbors, said that Otis is a completely loving, big, goofy dog who doesn’t know his own size.
“And he’s lifted his leg over everything I own. I shoo him away. He jumps at my dog when my dog is on lease. I’ve never felt threatened by the dog by any means, I feel like he just isn’t kept in control,” Pearson said.
Wimble was then asked for his point of view.
“I don’t know what you want me to say but you’re not taking my dog. I’ve done everything. I’ve tried. I put up an electric fence. It’s not my fault that my kids, when I’m not there, open the door and he runs out. That’s was 90% of this is, the kids open the door and he takes off and doesn’t have his collar on – because you have to charge the collar every eight hours,” Wimble said.
He acknowledged that Otis should not be at a preschool or running and destroying people’s stuff, but pointed out that he doesn’t hurt people.
“But you have no right to take my dog. He hasn't done anything to hurt anybody and you can’t take a dog because kids let him out of the house because they don’t listen,” he added.
Shupe asked Wimble if he had any suggestions for how to control Otis and Wimble said he planned to fence in his yard with a 6-foot-high wooden fence and said he planned to start next week. Seated with Wimble at the select board table was his friend Randy Dow Jr. who said he would be helping install the fence with his tractor.
Dow reminded the board that Wimble and Metevier had both lost a parent in recent weeks.
“Their family’s have been through a lot and I don’t think losing the dog is the right answer,” Dow said.
In response to further questioning from the board, Wimble said that the electric fence may have a short. Board member Jordan Gonda asked if there was some way Otis could be kept restrained while the fence is installed and electric fence repaired.
Board chair Christine Sullivan asked if there was somewhere Otis could stay while the fence is installed and Dow said that he would take him. Gonda asked Wimble if he was open to that idea and Wimble said he was. He has incurred $700 in fines for Otis’ behavior and has paid them all he said.
The board went into executive session to discuss the issue and will issue a final report shortly.