Livestock dog’s barking agitates Derry neighbors

Cobble Ridge Road homes are to the northeast of the Londonderry Rescue Squad. Courtesy Google Maps.

By Cherise Madigan
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In the time allotted for public comment at the Aug. 17 meeting of the Londonderry Select Board, a disagreement over a barking dog on Cobble Ridge Road prompted the board to examine its potential role in community conflict resolution, state and local statutes regarding livestock guardian dogs, and the requirements for a farm designation in the state of Vermont.

Barking on Cobble Ridge Road

The conflict arose over what neighbors claim is incessant barking that began at the end of June. That was when Cobble Ridge resident West McDonough was given two alpacas and a Great Pyrenees named Nymeria, all of which she hoped would allow her to move toward cultivating fiber and milk-based products on her 6.5 acre property, off Route 100 between Londonderry and Weston.

During the Aug. 17 Zoom meeting the Londonderry Select Board looks over a letter from West McDonough to neighbors as Randy and Bev Foster, bottom right, look on. screenshots from GNAT-TV.

McDonough had wanted to pursue farming for some time, but held off due to natural predators including foxes. With the protection provided by Nymeria, a trained livestock guardian dog, McDonough says she feels safe adding sheep to her operation soon.

McDonough admits that when the dog first came to Cobble Ridge in June, Nymeria barked at night. But, she  said, such guard dogs often bark a few times a night to keep predators at bay and will continue if one approaches. She keeps a fan running at night so the barking didn’t bother her, and thus she never realized that it was a problem for neighbors until about a week ago.

But for two neighboring Cobble Ridge families living downhill from McDonough, the dog’s barking has been a nuisance throughout the summer, having impeded their sleep and the overall quality of life at their homes. Both have said they need a solution sooner rather than later.

Speaking to the Select Board remotely on Monday, Aug. 17, Randy Foster said, “It’s gotten to the point where we can’t leave our windows open, my wife can’t sleep with earplugs in her ears because this dog is barking all night long … My wife left a note on their gate Thursday asking them to please take their dog in at night.”

In a phone interview, McDonough told The Telegraph: “It was an anonymous note saying it was one of the neighbors and I had to keep my dog indoors at night because of the barking … It was the first time that anyone had said anything to me about the dogs.”

Adam Walsh, who lived with his wife and young children at their home on Cobble Ridge through the height of the Covid-19 pandemic “stay home” order and plans to return full-time in September, supported the Fosters in their concerns at Monday’s meeting.

Adam Walsh and his wife Lauren speak at the Aug. 17 Londonderry Select Board meeting via Zoom.

“We were there from March through the end of June and we definitely had an issue with the dog barking,” Walsh said. “We were back just a few weeks ago and it was the same thing: The barking is incessant.”

After receiving the anonymous complaint, McDonough distributed a letter and brochure on LGDs to her neighbors, alongside her phone number. In it, she said that keeping Nymeria indoors at night would “defeat her entire purpose in life,” so that request could not be accommodated. She did however offer to buy a fan for those bothered by any barking and asked that neighbors provide her warning when they are shooting guns or launching fireworks so that she can be with the dog and prevent her from running away.

Saying she wants to “maintain friendly relationships,” McDonough added, “I dropped them off at everyone’s house saying ‘if you have any questions or concerns please call me and let’s talk about it.’” But, as she was dropping them off, “I encountered Mr. Foster, who was very in-my-face about it. He wouldn’t read the letter or take the brochure, he wouldn’t talk in a calm way, he basically said that the only acceptable thing was to get rid of the dog.”

Foster, detailing the encounter to the Select Board, said, “She asked me if I had left a note on their gate asking them to please take their dog in at night… I told her, ‘you’ve got to lose this dog, it’s taking away our sleep.’”

Board questions if property is a farm, dog can be regulated

At the Aug. 17 meeting, both Foster and Walsh detailed their concerns and requested that the Select Board take action to resolve the conflict. As the issue was brought up during the public comment portion of the meeting, it was not on the posted agenda and McDonough was not in attendance — or aware that the topic would be discussed, she says.

You can view the meeting here at GNAT-TV.  The 20-minute discussion starts around minute 9:30.

Alongside their concerns about the barking, both families expressed worries regarding the safety of children on the road and their neighbor’s right to farm in a residential area.

“I don’t believe that the rights of their animals supersede our right to the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of our home,” Walsh argued. “I asked them to come up with a solution (to protect their animals), maybe building a structure or something, but the dog doesn’t work and there’s no way around it.”

Board chair George Mora, in yellow, said, ‘I don’t know if there is anything statutorily that the Select Board can do, like go over there and take the dog away from them.’

“I don’t know if there is anything statutorily that the Select Board can do, like go over there and take the dog away from them,” said Mora, suggesting that Animal Control Officer Pat Salo look into applicable citations and advising the “free application of penalties.’” “Maybe the Select Board can write them a ‘nastygram,’ ” Mora said.

“If they’re not offering any kind of concession, based on the Facebook posts I would advise maybe enjoying fireworks as a casual hobby,” joked Select Board member Vincent Annunziata, when Mora asked the board for further input.

In his role as Constable, Kevin Beattie explained that the alleged barking was “clearly a violation” of the town’s dog ordinance.

“I think the town does need to take a hard line on this and do something about it,” he said. “It sounds like this is escalating in the neighborhood and I don’t like to hear that, so I would suggest that the town step in and do something here.”

Board member Taylor Prouty said, “Vermonters have been raising livestock for hundreds of years and I don’t think it’s a necessary level of protection for animals, especially in a small neighborhood. It certainly seems like, if they intended to be neighborly, they would come up with another way… My feeling is that, through whatever avenue the Select Board can, we should try to curb that behavior.”

Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe clarified that, if McDonough is determined to be a farm by the Vermont Department of Agriculture, the dog ordinance could not be applied.

Meanwhile, a dog goes missing

While the Select Board meeting was taking place, McDonough gave Nymeria dinner at 6:30 p.m. and went about her evening as usual. Soon after, she realized that the dog was no longer within the fence surrounding her backyard. It was not the first time that the dog had gone missing, as she was prone to jump the fence when scared by fireworks or gunshots.

“I discovered she had gone missing around 8 or 8:15 p.m., which is when I started looking for her,” said McDonough, who again posted the missing dog on the Londonderry Community Forum. “The next morning I finally heard from someone who had found her at 8 p.m. the night before in Dorset, which is 36 miles away.”

McDonough claims that Nymeria had only been missing for about 90 minutes and, as she is an older dog with a limp, she could not have traveled from Londonderry to Dorset in that time.

“She was kidnapped and dumped,” McDonough said. “I don’t know that it had anything to do with this situation — the timing seems awfully convenient — but I certainly don’t have enough to accuse anyone of anything and I wouldn’t try to accuse anyone of anything.”

Ag agency says property a farm: What happens next?

On Thursday, Aug. 20, McDonough had forwarded the town documentation from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture determining that her operation meets the definition of “farming” based on their regulations and is therefore considered a farming operation. Thus, the town’s dog ordinance could not be applied.

McDonough says she is also continuing to identify and raise the areas of her fence that Nymeria has been able to jump over and will likely electrify it as well. She’s also purchased a tracker for the dog alongside cameras and audio equipment to monitor the barking.

While McDonough says she is considering whether to file a police report for Nymeria’s alleged kidnapping, Walsh also said during the Select Board meeting that he would pursue “any and all legal options” if a resolution could not be achieved through negotiation with the neighbors or by the Select Board.

“It puts a lot of stress on people because now we have neighbors who are warring with each other, and who wants to have that?” he asked. “We’ll leave it to you guys to decide the best way to sort it.”

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Filed Under: FeaturedLatest NewsLondonderry

About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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  1. T. Anderson says:

    The rich, entitled people who migrated here during the beginning of the pandemic to get away from whatever upscale corporate ****hole they came from in CT or MA have no right to complain about regular VT happenings just because they feel mildly inconvenienced. Nor did they have the right to bring the virus up here and kill off a bunch of old people because they’re too selfish to care about the Vermonters who serve them their overpriced cocktails at Willie Dunn’s. Second homeowners have no respect for the local people who live around them just because they don’t live in ugly cookie-cutter mcmansions that they go stay in twice a year.

  2. Here they come. It’s only the beginning.

  3. Sean Whalen says:

    19:50 yacht off the port bow.

  4. Benjamin Risket says:

    If a fence and a coop make a home a farm,
    If a piece of paper makes a dog a ‘working dog’
    Then a slew of online support surely makes for a moral high ground.

    Or we could try to work with our neighbors in a respectful way.

  5. Gordon Bull says:

    It drives me bonkers when city folks move to the country, then complain about all things country! They’re attracted to the inexpensive real estate, open fields, brag about their hobby farm in farm country, then go to war with the existing residents over the smells and sounds that bothers them.

    My humble opinion is that the authorities ought to drop the hammer on the frivolous causes brought against farmers. I think that every time an action like this is brought against a farmer, the farmer should receive damages for the time, money, and headache involved in defending their legitimate right to farm.

    I sure do hope this “Cityot” gets hammered and you West are allowed to get back to business as usual.
    I’ll tell you one thing… If that guy tried to take my dog he’d lose his hand. Or part of it.

  6. West McDonough says:

    I am the owner of the dog in question. First of all, I commend the reporter, who worked hard to try and present a balanced report. I was greatly dismayed when I watched the recording of the meeting and saw the amount of misinformation and exaggeration that was accepted without question, and without asking for my side of the story, and I appreciated the opportunity to offer another perspective.

    One thing that was not included in the story, because the research had not happened when she interviewed me, is that I have spent the past 8 nights doing an all-night audio recording, just to get some perspective on how bad the barking actually is (because I almost never hear it myself, despite being much closer to it than the complaining neighbors).

    Most nights she barely barks at all; there were nights with no barking, and nights with 1-3 incidents of less than a minute each. The “worst” night, when there was clearly an active predator hanging around, had a total of 11-12 total minutes of barking, with the longest incident being 5 minutes. Not once was there even a single incident of 20+ minutes at a time.

    In fact, the TOTAL minutes for the entire week (including the worst night) was just over 20 minutes. I don’t believe this would even count as nuisance barking in a subdivision, and for a working farm dog, it’s entirely reasonable.

  7. M Lindbergh says:

    This is what happens when people move to farm country. Imo the farmers rights supersede the newcomers. If you don’t like the noise and proximity of animals stay where they will not bother you.

  8. Heidi Brumbaugh says:

    Wow. Just wow. Must be great to a town government who will jump to take your side without any evidence or attempt to get the other point of view.

  9. Donna McLaughlin says:

    First of all I think that the most responsibly behaving party here is the farmer! She is protecting her livestock with her dog and the dog is doing that by barking at predators! This is the trait of a good Livestock Protection Dog. The neighborhood is SAFER from bear, Fox, raccoon, coy dogs, Fisher cats, etc because this dog is at work! The dog cannot protect if it is hidden inside at night! These people would know this and more if they had read the literature this farmer gave them.
    Also. Thank you Kathy Pellett for injecting some common sense into properly handling this issue!

  10. Kathy Pellett says:

    I’m really surprised at the tone and unprofessional manner of the Londonderry Select Board. They acted like it was a joke. Basically they offered no constructive possibilities for a solution for either parties. They need to take it seriously and get to work helping both parties resolve the matter. I really feel sorry for the great Pyrenees who is doing what he is trained to do – I fear for him because it sounds like the neighbors are going to do more than kidnapping him and dumping him off the next time. They should be made aware this will not be tolerated even if the barking is disturbing their peace — folks get together and work on this so this animal is injured. And what’s this business of fireworks is that with the neighbors are trying to do to counteract the dog barking? Really irresponsible.

  11. Melissa says:

    I think Mr. Torrey you are out of line. It is inappropriate for you to determine Mr. Walsh is a transplant who doesn’t understand what should be expected to live in Vermont. Also I should point out asking either of these families to have a sound machine to muffle out the dogs barking is over the top.
    I am a dog owner and I am always concerned with the impact their barking has on my neighbors – because I am a good neighbor.

    Be kind and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes it might change your perspective.

    Melissa Brown

  12. Dakota Torrey says:

    Sounds like Walsh is an implant to the town obviously isn’t from around here but is trying to change the way of people’s lives who have been around for most their lives ( i could be wrong ) but sounds like he’s just not being understanding and being a typical out of state flatlander trying to change the Vermont way of life cause they’re not happy… why can’t the Walshes or Fosters do something on their end to muffle out the barking.

    It’s a two-way street here. can’t just expect something from someone with nothing in return like that end that be rude and disrespectful about it when she tries to come and talk about it… I hope this lady gets to keep this dog and I hope these neighbors legally have to deal with it… if it was me I’d tell em where to go and how to get there and don’t smack yourself on the way out. sorry but don’t respect anyone who won’t even take the time to listen and understand… but it’s ok for those two neighbors to do whatever, right?