Dog ordered to obedience school after bite

RIGHT: Animal control officer Justin Bergeron (left) testifies at a vicious dog hearing on Monday as attorney Bob Fletcher takes notes next to him. Dog owner Sarah Bissonette is pictured behind. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

A 10-month-old dog who bit a local boy this month was ordered into a certified obedience school, the Milton Selectboard ordered Monday night.

The board issued the decision after hearing more than an hour of testimony during a vicious dog hearing at the town offices on July 17.

Filed July 11, the complaint alleged the mixed breed boxer puppy named Tucker attacked 11-year-old Isaac Karlin on the afternoon of July 6 on Trayah Drive.

The boy’s mother, Angela Patterson, said Isaac was on his bike when Tucker opened his home’s screen door and attacked, biting Isaac’s buttocks and shoulder.

Patterson, who was out of town during Monday’s hearing, was concerned Tucker’s owner, Sarah Bissonette, lives near Milton Elementary School.

“[The dog] now has the experience of attacking a child,” she wrote. “Not acceptable. A smaller, more fragile child could have been severely maimed or killed.”

Dog bite cases are processed in a quasi-judicial hearing, as per Vermont statute. Selectboards determine a dog is vicious if it bit a person without provocation off the owner’s property and if the victim requires medical attention.

From there, it can order the dog be euthanized, muzzled, chained, transferred to an animal shelter or another remedy the board sees fit.

During the hearing, the board heard testimony from animal control officer Justin Bergeron. He testified he documented photos of Isaac’s wounds, which he determined were dog bites, and ordered Tucker be confined inside for 10 days.

Bergeron also learned Tucker, who Bissonette adopted from the humane society as a rescue from Louisiana, was not registered with the town but was vaccinated and neutered. Bissonette has since registered the dog, she said.

Bissonette was on her way to work at the Franklin Grand Isle Restorative Justice Center when her 13-year-old daughter called about the incident. When she arrived, her daughters were “hysterical” and crying, she said.

A mother of three, Bissonette told the board she adopted Tucker four months ago and has never seen him display aggressive behavior.

“I would never allow a vicious dog to be around,” she said, later adding Tucker is around children all the time. “He’s a puppy. He’s playful. He does jump, and that is something we’re working on training him, but he’s never bit anybody.”

Bissonette said she has since fixed the screen door so Tucker can no longer get out. She also submitted emails from neighbors and friends attesting to his playful nature, including parents of young children and senior citizens.

Though she wasn’t called as a witness, EMT Bethanne Marshall asked to testify. She said she was outside at the time, heard Isaac and his siblings screaming and rushed to the scene.

“I was the one who made the phone call. If it had been just a simple scratch, I wouldn’t have made a phone call to anybody,” she said. “I felt it needed to be addressed immediately given the severity of what I saw.”

Marshall said she never saw Tucker be aggressive but heard of two other incidents. Bissonette responded she had no idea what those could be, adding Tucker had only growled at a neighbor’s dog in the past.

The board issued its decision after a short deliberation in closed session. Bissonette expressed her thanks and told the board before the hearing was even called, she’d reached out to obedience schools in Williston and Colchester.

The order requires Bissonette to provide documentation of Tucker’s completion of the program within six months. It also requires Tucker be leashed when in public.

Isaac’s family can appeal the decision to the Chittenden County Superior Court – Civil Division within 30 days.

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