A dog has been put down after allegedly attacking sheep and an alpaca in Hinesburg, prompting a larger discussion about what constitutes a vicious dog.
One sheep was killed and six others and an alpaca were injured at the Needham Family Farm on Boutin Road on Oct. 4.
The Needhams are asking the town for assurance that another dog, belonging to the same owners, will be kept off their property.
Kristen Needham called the Hinesburg police about the bloody scene, saying her sheep and alpaca had been the victims of an animal attack, according to a police report
Neither dog was seen actively harming the livestock, according to the police report.
Needham believed the attacker to be a large, white dog owned by her neighbors, Robert and Anne Frost. Needham had previously encountered the dog roaming on her property, she said during the selectboard meeting.
She reached out to her neighbor Anne Frost, saying she thought her dog was responsible for the attack. At that time, Frost said both of her dogs were home and she did not believe they had been involved.
The next day game warden Dana Joyal told police he had inspected the injured animals and believed the injuries were consistent with a dog attack and not a wild animal, police records said.
Hinesburg’s animal control ordinance prohibits dog owners from letting dogs loose within the town, except for hunting or training where the owner is nearby. All dogs using a town sidewalk, recreation trail or bike path must be leashed.
Dog owners are not to let their animals create a disturbance or nuisance, including causing damage to personal property.
On Oct. 13, Needham called police again when she spotted the Frost’s white dog and German shepherd on her property. The dogs were in an empty, fenced-in pasture, police records said. Sgt. Caleb Casco of the Hinesburg Police Department responded and approached the two dogs. The white dog growled at him, and the German shepherd “showed no aggression at all,” according to his police report.
Casco turned to go to the Frosts’ home to see if someone was there to collect the dogs when the white dog and shepherd got out of the fenced pasture.
“The large white dog charged at me barking and growling and started circling me attempting to get close,” Casco wrote.
He pulled out his baton and taser and told the dog to go home. At that point, he also turned on his body camera to document the white dog’s aggressive behavior, according to the report.
Both dogs eventually went home. Casco was unable to get in touch with the Frost family but wrote he later learned they were planning to put the white dog down.
When Frost’s white dog, Clyde, returned to the Needham’s farm on Oct. 13, Frost said she took Needham’s word — Needham’s veterinarian said if the dog returned to the scene, they could be almost positive it was the perpetrator of the attack.
“I took her at her word, and I certainly don’t want a dog that’s going to cause problems. So we made this really awful decision to euthanize the dog,” Frost said.
Clyde was an Akbash, a Turkish dog bred to guard livestock.
The Frosts bought Clyde, as a puppy, this summer after losing several of their sheep to coyotes, Frost said.
Frost said the Needhams have a dog that has been on their property in the past and has killed chickens. She said the Needhams’ dog has also chased one of their baby goats leading it to fall and break its neck, and a cat, which fell onto a fence, was injured and died.
“When I brought it up to them, they denied that it was their dog even though we watched it. But in the interest of being good neighbors we took a deep breath and let it go,” she said.
Frost was sad to hear that the Needhams had brought the recent incident to the selectboard after her family had already euthanized Clyde.
As for Bo, the Frost’s German shepherd, Frost said he is used to being around animals on their own farm and hasn’t attacked them.
“He’s the sweetest dog on the planet,” she said.
Talking to the town
Needham posted a video of the white dog growling at Casco online. Before posting, she hadn’t received a straight answer from the Frosts about the alleged attack and their dogs’ second visit to her farm, she told the selectboard.
After she posted the video, the Frost’s son said the family was sorry, she told the selectboard.
Anne Frost then called her and said she, too, was sorry, Needham said.
“Pretty much we haven’t been on any sort of civil conversational terms with them since they denied it and then we discovered the dogs on our property later it just didn’t go anywhere good after that,” Needham said.
The Needhams have had to pay for veterinary care and administer antibiotics and hands-on treatment to help their animals heal from their injuries and the family has hired a lawyer and will seek payment for the damages, Needham said during the selectboard meeting.
“We have been through hell,” she said.
She is afraid to let her animals out into the pasture now, concerned the Frosts’ German shepherd might come onto the property and harm them.
However, she told the selectboard that the shepherd is friendly toward people and fine around other dogs.
Needham has seen the shepherd on her property in photos captured with a game camera.
Hinesburg Police have used the date- and time-stamped images to issue tickets related to violations of the town’s loose dog ordinance.
“I’m not sure what there is for the board to pursue at this point,” Casco told the selectboard.
If there was evidence the dogs had attacked the sheep then the board could take further action, he said.
But there is no evidence.
Since the incident, the white dog has been put down and police have done what they can — issuing tickets for the loose German shepherd, when it comes back on the property, he said.
“There is the fear that it might do something to the sheep and it would be nice to be able to do something to stop that but sticking within what our ordinance says we have tickets that we can issue,” Casco said.
Casco said there were 18 dog-related issues over the years for the Frost’s dogs, he told the selectboard.
Officer Brett Lindemuth, reached by phone, said he did not have access to the number of tickets the Frosts had been issued related to their dogs. It was more than one, he said.
“After what we’ve been through just taking the chance right now it’s killing me. I really don’t know how I can let my animals out and then go to work for the day,” Frost said.
Selectboard chair Phil Pouech asked Casco to continue investigating and asked Needham have neighbors write to the board if they had similar experiences. Then, he said, the animal control board rules might help with resolution, like holding a hearing about the dog owners in question.
“Thanks for bringing this to us Kristen,” said board member Merrily Lovell. “This is just totally unacceptable. We really love to have the small farms in Hinesburg. That’s a really important part of the character in Hinesburg and they have to be protected. This can’t happen. So we have to find a solution.”
Anne Frost, reached by phone, said she hadn’t heard that the selectboard discussed her dogs. She said she was saddened that the Needhams hadn’t come to speak with them about the matter again.
Frost said she wishes the families could have talked things through.
“I just, honestly wish that Kristen had come up and we could have problem-solved together,” she said.