GEORGIA – Robert Labelle is an older man. He’s wheelchair-bound and lives off of a backroad somewhere between Georgia and Milton, in a wooded inlet surrounded maple trees tapped by his son-in-law and wooden ramps that allow him to move around.
While he regularly has company from family and friends, Labelle usually spends his nights alone in his long house, accompanied only by his pet dog.
A few weeks ago, an incident involving a neighbor’s loose dog pushed the relatively isolated Labelle into the center of a debate about dog ordinances in the state of Vermont, where a lack of teeth about dog attacks against other dogs has incensed both Labelle and his town’s government.
“I’ve been so upset with this, not being able to do anything,” Labelle sighed.
On February 21, a neighbor’s pit bull escaped from his home somewhere along Hibbard Road. After chasing and biting at the tires of a Georgia municipal vehicle, the dog sprinted into Labelle’s yard, crashed through a porch door and gored Labelle’s pet dachshund Callie, killing her.
According to Labelle, the dog had also broken into Labelle’s house before, when the Georgia native chased him out with a club in hand.
Law enforcement as well as Georgia’s municipal government responded to the incident and have done what they can to address the dog attack, but because it was only Labelle’s dog and not Labelle himself who was attacked, Vermont state law limits how Georgia could respond.
“If they bite somebody, it becomes a vicious dog complaint,” said Georgia Animal Control Officer David McWilliams. “But if a dog tears up another dog or livestock, there’s nothing in there.”
At one time, Georgia had an ordinance that would dictate what could and could not be done should a dog attack another animal. While it might not have had the teeth of a vicious dog attack, statue would have allowed the town to levy some kind of penalty over the offending animal and its owner.
In 2011, though, the state legislation that anchored sections of Georgia’s dog ordinance related to attacks on domestic animals was repealed. While state law is still very clear about what happens when a dog attacks a person, the repeal of statutes applied to attacks on domestic animals effectively neutered Georgia’s ability to respond to situations like Labelle’s.
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