Photo by Adam Caira RIGHT TO LEFT, Brandi Todd, Aaron Willett, and Leah Willett, along with their dog Kodiak, in the foreground, pose for a picture on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, at their home on Beckett St. in Williamstown where Brandi and Aaron live with their four children including Leah and their dog Kodiak.
WILLIAMSTOWN — The case of “Kodiak,” the allegedly wayward pit bull, took an interesting turn last week when the dog that was seized from its Beckett Street owners one week ago tonight was returned Friday in exchange for $180 in cash.
That’s a fraction of the $1,800 in legal fees that Town Manager Jackie Higgins said the town invested in obtaining the search warrant that allowed authorities to take Kodiak, if only briefly, away from owners Aaron Willett and Brandy Todd.
The bill Todd paid Friday would have been even smaller if she and Willett had been able to figure out where the town boarded Kodiak — a once-ticketed pit bull that has been the subject of numerous neighborhood complaints, two hearings before the Select Board, a couple of orders and one warrant.
That’s because the $180 that Todd hastily scraped up to spring Kodiak on Friday afternoon represented the cost of boarding the dog at an undisclosed location for four days.
Todd claims town officials, from Higgins to Animal Control Officer Justin Pickel, repeatedly refused to provide her with Kodiak’s whereabouts after Pickel took the dog with the help of two deputy sheriffs last Tuesday night.
Higgins didn’t dispute that assertion on Friday, claiming she withheld the information to spare the shelter’s staff from being harassed. She also said she didn’t tell Todd what she needed to do to get her dog back because, she claimed: “She (Todd) didn’t ask.”
What Todd, an out-of-work paralegal, did do on Friday was draft an emergency motion to get her dog back for fear that the 10-day clock contained in the town’s “Dog and Pet Ordinance” was ticking and, she worried, officials would order her family’s pet destroyed as soon as it expired.
“I don’t trust them,” Todd said of town officials she claims have gone out of their way to make her dog’s life difficult while failing to follow an ordinance that has been on the books for six years.
Though there have been multiple allegations Kodiak has been off his leash and off his owners’ property, Todd said the only ticket Pickel ever issued for the violation came almost 18 months ago when Kodiak was a 12-week-old puppy.
Since then the Select Board has held two hearings involving complaints of Kodiak “running at large” — one last December and another this June — issuing orders that Todd claims aren’t contemplated in the town’s animal control ordinance, but not the contestable civil tickets that are.
“It’s a civil violation,” she said. “We could have fought it in court.”
According to Todd, the board’s orders — the latest of which essentially requires Kodiak to be restrained or confined at all times when he is not in the home that she and Willett share where their children — was used to obtain the warrant that resulted in what she views as the dog’s unlawful seizure.
Higgins said the town was within its rights to impound Kodiak even if preventing Todd and Willett from getting the dog back was never an option. She referred questions on that point to Montpelier attorney Charles Merriman, who worked on obtaining the warrant from Judge Timothy Tomasi, after Todd and Willett refused to surrender Kodiak a day after he allegedly attacked a blind dog owned by a neighbor. Neither dog was injured in the Aug. 8 incident and Merriman said the town persuaded Tomasi to issue the warrant nearly a month later.
Though Merriman could not explain why the town failed to issue the civil tickets contemplated in the ordinance, or point to a source of authority for the Select Board to impose the restrictions it did on the dog, he said he was confident the town had a right to impound the animal.
Merriman cited a section of the ordinance that states: “… Any dog found running at large within the town may be taken up by an officer and impounded. Notice of such impoundment shall be promptly given to the owner if such can be determined.”
Merriman said “found” didn’t necessarily mean discovered, that it could also mean “determined,” though he said Willett and Todd had an absolute right under the ordinance to redeem their pet. He said the notice requirement was satisfied because Todd and Willett were home with the dog when it was taken into custody last Tuesday.
Todd said the explanation represented a weak attempt to justify an expensive and heavy-handed response to what she insists is an unproven allegation.
“They (town officials) are making it up as they go along,” she said, suggesting even if Kodiak got in a dust-up with the neighbor’s dog, or occasionally wandered off his property, the appropriate response under the ordinance is a ticket.
According to Higgins, the ordinance needs work, and Todd and Willett need to learn to keep their dog under control.
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