Board takes bite out of dog owner

$500 fine levied in case involving alleged attack

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The owner of a dog accused of biting a Williston man will have to pay a $500 fine and enroll her pet in a training program, the Selectboard ruled last week.

The written decision also stipulates that Paco, an 18-month-old German Shepherd, must wear a collar and be kep on a leash by a person over the age of 18 whenever the dog is outside. Michelle LeBlanc, Paco’s owner, must compensate Brooks McArthur, the victim of the attack, for “out-of-pocket” expenses incurred because of the incident.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said he notified both LeBlanc and McArthur of the board’s decision on Friday — four days after a public hearing on Paco’s attack. McGuire said LeBlanc indicated that she was considering an appeal of the decision in the court system. She asked the town for all material gathered in the municipal investigation of the incident, McGuire said.

LeBlanc and McArthur told their respective versions of the incident at the April 25 hearing. The Selectboard met in a brief closed-door session following the meeting to discuss the case.

Selectboard member Andy Mikell then composed a draft of a written decision, which was discussed and amended among board members through e-mail over the course of a few days last week, according to McGuire.

McGuire said the Selectboard was allowed to meet in closed session and to discuss the case using e-mail because it was serving as a quasi-judicial board. He compared it to the deliberations of a panel of judges.

The Selectboard decision reflected significant concern with Paco’s behavior, despite the testimony of LeBlanc and her friends and family that the dog was gentle and obedient.

“The board concludes that at the present time Paco has behavioral issues that render him dangerous unless certain controls are instituted,” the decision read.

McArthur, a deputy state’s attorney for Washington County, alleged that Paco attacked him in his Seth Circle driveway on April 18 after he and his wife, Amy, had returned from an evening walk with their pug, Oliver.

McArthur said Paco bit him repeatedly without provocation. McArthur was treated at Fletcher Allen Health Care for his wounds.

LeBlanc said Paco slipped out her front door while she was moving items from her car into her condominium. She questioned various aspects of McArthur’s version of the event, expressing regret for his injuries but saying he had exaggerated the severity of the attack.

McArthur said Paco had also attacked his wife and dog in an incident in August 2004.

The Selectboard threatened stricter sanctions for Paco in the event of another attack, appearing to raise the specter of putting the dog to sleep — an option under state law if the board feels it is necessary to prevent future attacks.

The decision said the Selectboard wanted “to give notice that any further incident or incidents involving Paco and injury to a person or animal will likely be dealt with in the most extreme manner.