Following ‘vicious dog’ hearing, Chester board orders dog impounded, sets conditions of release

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board – acting as a quasi-judicial body under state law – judged a German shepherd named Dutchess to be vicious and ordered her impounded. According to testimony given at the hearing last Wednesday night, the dog, which is owned by Michael Horton, has bitten and harassed a number of people including Barbara Bye who made a formal complaint, triggering the “vicious dog hearing.”

Board chair Arne Jonynas works his way through the legal procedure of the hearing. Courtesy SAPA TV

Board chair Arne Jonynas followed a model procedure provided by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that involved a long set of steps such as reading the warning for the hearing, reading the complaint, accepting written evidence into the record, swearing in witnesses and asking the complainant and the dog owner to testify.

Bye gave a statement that Jonynas read into the record. Without explanation, Horton did not attend.

Bye said that on July 20, 2021, she was walking on Davidson Hill Road with her daughter and grandchild when Dutchess ran toward her and bit her on the thigh, breaking the skin. She also said that Chester Health Officer Amanda Silva helped her establish that the dog was up to date on its rabies vaccine. There was also a statement from someone who asked to remain anonymous who had also been bitten on July 22. Several others attested to the dog’s aggressiveness from personal encounters.

Health Officer Amanda Silva (front bench facing the board) testifies to lack of cooperation by the dog owner

Silva told the board that Dutchess has not been licensed in Chester although she has contacted Horton to do this. Silva said that Horton’s attitude was generally uncooperative and that he had told her that Dutchess is a service dog that never leaves his side, although he was not present at several of the incidents discussed at the hearing. According to Silva, Horton has been ticketed but does not respond and has never answered the door when called on by the Chester Police Department.

Several board members expressed dismay that the dog’s owner did not respond and take responsibility. Lee Gustafson said he saw a “pattern of not caring” and said it “seems the dog is a threat.”

“What’s troubling to me is that he hasn’t even taken this seriously enough to show up at the hearing,” said Jonynas saying that tells it all … for him to dismiss it is troubling.”

Board member Lee Gustafson speaking of a “pattern of not caring” by the dog’s owner

“One of my big concerns is accountability,” said board member Leigh Dakin. “So far we’ve had people to report being fearful, being bitten and they’ve followed through on the responsibility but we can’t seem to hear from the dog owner. I worry about what we are going to do when we don’t even have the courtesy of the owner coming before us to present information.”

After hearing from everyone who wanted to speak, Jonynas closed the hearing and the board went into a deliberative session at the end of its meeting. Coming out of that session, Jonynas announced that an order would be drawn up to seize and impound the dog. A licensed professional would be consulted to see if the dog should be returned to Horton.

If the dog is cleared to be released to Horton, he would have to show that he has purchased a muzzle and chain to restrain the dog and that he is using them. If the police find that Horton is not adhering to those conditions they could seize the dog again.

Horton would also have to pay the cost of keeping the dog impounded.

“This is an extremely serious issue concerned with the safety of people in the neighborhood,” said Jonynas. “That’s why we have taken the action we did.”

According to Town Manager Julie Hance, the dog was released to the town by the owner and is currently impounded.

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