By Stephanie M. Peters, Rutland Herald
A Rutland County Superior Court judge has ordered that a dog recently banned from Rutland City for viciousness be brought back next week to undergo a behavioral evaluation.
Judge William Cohen will assign a “master” with expertise in dog training to evaluate Zoey, a female Labrador retriever/pit bull mix owned by William and Martina Miller, and report back to the court on whether the dog is vicious by nature and poses a threat to the public.
“That way I’ll be able to make an informed decision,” said Cohen, who took particular interest in William Miller’s testimony that the 9-year-old dog has grown up around a family and children without problems.
“An isolated incident with a person doesn’t make a dog vicious,” Cohen said. “It’s more complicated than whether a dog got into a fight.” He said he expects the parties could return to court to hear the report as soon as two weeks from now.
The city’s Board of Aldermen presided over a hearing and ruled the dog vicious in mid-May, based on a complaint from another city resident, Jack Moore, who said he and his rat terrier were attacked by Zoey in Cioffredi Park on April 3. Their decision gave the Millers until June 27 to remove the dog from the city.
The Millers did comply by moving Zoey to Massachusetts to temporarily live with their daughters, however they also chose to challenge in court the way in which the Board of Aldermen hearing took place and its outcome.
Among the Millers’ complaints were that they did not receive a copy of the written complaint or a detailed warning regarding the hearing prior to the event and that they were not prepared to counter some of the testimony presented in court. According to their attorney, Matthew Hart, the latter problem was due in part to the fact that Moore’s encounter was not the only incident with Zoey brought up during the hearing. He argued that the city’s procedures for such hearings do not allow for testimony regarding older incidents.
“The city didn’t follow its own procedures and took testimony from various people (during the hearing),” said Hart, the Millers’ attorney, referring to the fact that although the aldermen’s hearing was called solely to address Moore’s complaint, they took testimony from other people who had past encounters with the dog.
“I think the whole hearing, Your Honor, was improperly held,” Hart said.
In defense of the aldermen’s hearing, City Attorney Andrew Costello argued that the Millers were eyewitnesses to the incidents that the aldermen heard testimony on in May. He also said they were read Moore’s complaint over the phone and had the time to compile seven pages of letters in defense of Zoey, including three from veterinarians.
“This was not a situation Your Honor where the Millers walked into the chambers before the Board of Aldermen and had no idea what was going on,” Costello said.
Cohen said that if the behavioral evaluation shows that Zoey is vicious by nature — as opposed to by circumstance — he will then consider whether the hearing should have been held in compliance with the city’s ordinance or state statute.
Thursday morning’s hearing also featured more than two hours of testimony from William Miller, Moore and Mark Montgomery, the postal carrier who serves Davis Street, where the Millers live, and has had incidents with the dog in the past, although he has never been bitten by Zoey.
Update August 6, 2010 7:35am - The following article is by Stephanie M. Peters, Rutland Herald:
Court says Rutland dog not vicious
A Rutland City dog the Board of Aldermen ruled “vicious” under a city ordinance was found to be anything but in a recent court-ordered evaluation, according to Judge William Cohen of the Rutland County Superior Court.
In a status conference Thursday, Cohen shared the findings of Dr. Maria Dunton, a Rutland veterinarian whom he appointed “master” last month for the purpose of evaluating Zoey, a female Labrador/pit bull mix accused of attacking a resident and his dog in a city park in April.
However, what will happen with Zoey, who is owned by William and Martina Miller, still remains to be seen.
City Attorney Andrew Costello argued that regardless of the veterinarian’s findings, by the city’s definition Zoey is still a vicious dog and some action should be taken to “best protect the public.” Costello said he believed it was still appropriate for the dog to be removed from the city, but short of that he requested Zoey be muzzled whenever she’s off her owners’ property and be required to attend behavior modification classes with her owners.
“We believe, Your Honor, that it was shown Zoey does have another side that flares up,” he said.
Zoey was first brought to the aldermen’s attention in April, when Rutland resident Jack Moore filed a request for a vicious dog hearing with the city following an April 3 incident in which he said he and his rat terrier were attacked in Ciofreddi Park by Zoey, who was running free.
During a mid-May hearing, Moore said both he and his dog required medical attention following the altercation. The aldermen also heard from the Animal Control Officer Craig Petrie, a neighbor of the Millers’, who brought to the board’s attention two old incidents in which the Millers received a ticket because of Zoey. The aldermen ordered the dog removed from Rutland within 30 days, a decision the Millers appealed to Superior Court last month.
At that hearing, William Miller and Attorney Matthew Hart countered that Zoey also suffered injuries during the incident with Moore, who they said picked up a stick anticipating a problem as Zoey ran across the park to them. They said Moore hit Zoey repeatedly with the stick.
“After spending an hour with the dog with both attorneys present and tying to trigger aggressive behavior, Dr. Dunton came to the conclusion that the dog is not vicious by nature,” Cohen said Thursday, noting that some “fairly extreme” events were used to try to trigger aggressive behavior in Zoey.
Among the triggering events used included putting Zoey with a calm but unfamiliar dog and then an aggressive, unfamiliar dog; putting her in a basement kennel cage; poking the dog with a mop handle; and pinning the dog to the ground.
“Each time the dog looked away and didn’t attack,” Cohen said.
Hart objected to Costello’s requests for muzzling and behavior modification, calling them excessive. He also criticized the aldermen for failing to follow both the state’s and their own guidelines.
Hart said that since Zoey’s return to Rutland last month for the evaluation with Dunton, the Millers have been particularly careful, keeping the dog double-collared and leashed. Cohen is expected to review the case and issue a written decision sometime in the near future, which he said he believes will focus on how to “look at the city ordinance.”
“I just don’t see where there’s a significant risk to the public,” he said.