October 24, 2014

Dog bite case prompts conflicting testimony

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Selectboard weighs fate of trooper’s German Shepard

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Two contrasting portraits were sketched for the Selectboard during a hearing Monday to determine the fate of a German Shepard accused of biting a Williston man.

The dog’s owner, Michelle LeBlanc, and her supporters called the 18-month-old Paco a gentle, playful dog that faithfully obeys commands and avoids conflict. Meanwhile, Brooks and Amy McArthur, LeBlanc’s neighbors on Seth Circle, recounted two incidents in which they say Paco made unprovoked attacks, injuring Brooks McArthur in the recent incident that prompted Monday’s hearing.

McArthur, a deputy state’s attorney in Washington County, filed a “vicious domestic pet” complaint with the town on April 18. He said Paco had attacked him three days earlier in his driveway after he and his wife had returned from an evening walk with their pug, Oliver.

LeBlanc, a Vermont State Police trooper, took issue with the complaint Monday, saying it was “totally exaggerated and leads people to believe it was a vicious attack and much worse than it was.”

McArthur’s complaint states the German Shepard was running free when it attacked and bit him repeatedly on his back and elbow. He said Paco continued to bite him until LeBlanc pulled the dog away.

On Monday, McArthur described the pain of the bites as “indescribable.” He was treated at the hospital for his wounds.

McArthur also mentioned a 2004 incident in which he said Paco attacked his wife and dog. He said his wife was only scratched, but Oliver was bitten.

McArthur, who was accompanied Monday by his wife and an attorney, declined to give his opinion on what should be done with Paco, saying he just wanted to “effectuate change.” The Selectboard has the authority to put the dog to sleep or to impose a less severe sanction to prevent future attacks.

“We should feel safe to walk outside,” McArthur said. “My primary concern is to make certain something like this doesn’t happen again.”

LeBlanc disputed parts of McArthur’s versions of both incidents. She does not believe Paco bit McArthur on April 15, but instead scratched him with newly groomed claws. She said Paco probably wanted to play with Oliver, whom McArthur had lifted into his arms to protect. She said her dog is not aggressive.

Selectboard members noted the medical report said McArthur’s injuries were the result of dog bites, and Dennis Healy, a neighbor who witnessed the incident, said he saw Paco bite McArthur twice in the back.

LeBlanc said Paco had slipped out the front door of her condo while she was carrying items inside from her vehicle. She said Paco responded to her command to stop after the contact began with McArthur, and the dog was sitting when she reached the scene.

Although she disagreed with McArthur on some details of the incident, LeBlanc repeatedly emphasized her regret for the confrontation and McArthur’s injuries. She pledged to ensure that no similar incident ever occurred again. LeBlanc said she would take additional steps to keep Paco from running free and planned to give the dog additional obedience training.

LeBlanc said the incident has affected her career. She interviewed for a police canine handler position the day before the incident occurred. Now, she said, “I will not get the job unless these false allegations are rectified.”

LeBlanc said she had hoped to settle the matter privately and had offered to pay McArthur’s medical bills.

In addition to LeBlanc, four people spoke in support of Paco, saying the dog was friendly and well behaved. Debbie Stevens and Heather Drake said they allow their children to play with the dog.

With her voice breaking, Amy McArthur responded, saying, “I’m glad you aren’t afraid of Paco, but I am.”

The coverage of the incident in the Observer upset both LeBlanc and McArthur. LeBlanc said their occupations should not have been included in the story.

LeBlanc also said the public seemed to have the mistaken impression that Paco was a police canine.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons had said at the April 18 Selectboard meeting, which was broadcast on Channel 17, that the dog was being trained to be a police canine.

However, the story in the April 21 Observer stated that LeBlanc’s dog was not a police canine. Lt. Bill O’Leary of the Vermont State Police said LeBlanc only hoped the dog would be considered for the role one day.

McArthur said it was “irresponsible journalism” for the Observer to suggest he had said Paco was a police canine. However, the article never stated McArthur made such a claim.

The Selectboard held a closed-door session after the hearing to discuss the case. The board’s decision could come as early as next week.

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