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Cornwall dog faces sanctions after attacking woman

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Posted on May 14, 2018 |
By John Flowers



CORNWALL — The Cornwall selectboard has ordered a local family to invest in a chain link fence, obedience training and other corrective measures for their dog in wake of an April 17 attack that left a FedEx delivery person severely injured.

Cornwall’s dog ordinance precluded the board from demanding humane destruction of the animal — a 45-pound coon-hound mix named “Quimby” — in large part because the attack occurred on the animal owners’ property at 505 Route 125, according to the selectboard’s May 7 decision on the matter. The ordinance requires an attack by a vicious dog to be “off the premises of its owner or keeper” to give the board authority to order the most extreme sanctions against the offending animal.

“Due to the unprovoked and sustained nature of Quimby’s attack on Ms. (Natalie) Branon, and because of the severity of her injuries, the board would prefer to impose a harsher penalty in the instant case; however, we are prevented from doing so under the provisions of Vermont law (30 V.S.A. § 3546(a)) and by the terms of Cornwall’s dog ordinance, which closely tracks that statute,” reads the board’s decision.

“I hope we never see (a dog attack case) that is worse, or even one like it,” selectboard Chairman Benjamin Marks said of the Quimby incident.

The selectboard’s decision comes after an April 27 public hearing regarding the incident. Attendees included the victim — Natalie Branon of Fairfield — and Quimby’s owners, Rick and Nancy Durham. During testimony, officials learned that Branon — a contract driver for FedEx — was asked to deliver a package to the Durham home during the afternoon of April 17. Branon parked in the Durhams’ driveway and walked toward the residence to make the delivery, according to testimony.

Nancy Durham had let Quimby out of a kitchen door and was unaware that Branon was parked in the driveway, according to testimony.

Branon told officials that Quimby suddenly attacked her, at first latching onto her right hand, “breaking the skin through Ms. Branon’s glove in multiple places and producing a gash at the base of the palm that appears approximately an inch wide,” reads the board’s decision.

“Ms. Branon yelled at Quimby and tried to defend herself by beating Quimby with her hand-held delivery device, but Quimby would not release his hold,” according to testimony. “Ms. Branon tried to get back in her truck, but fell to the ground and curled into a fetal position to protect her front from further attack.”

Quimby then bit Branon on her left arm at the elbow, “ripping open Ms. Branon’s arm” and then bit her backside, resulting in puncture wounds, according to the board’s decision.

“Because of the driveway surface, and her rolling to attempt to avoid further injury, Ms. Branon also had dirt and gravel embedded in her wounds,” the decision further reads.

Branon showed the board photos of her injuries, for which she received treatment at Porter Hospital.

She said she called 911 for assistance, but was told that Vermont State Police don’t respond to dog attacks. The dispatcher recommended she instead contact the local dog warden, according to Branon. Having no luck in reaching a local dog warden, Branon called Middlebury police. While Cornwall is out of Middlebury PD’s jurisdiction, the department sent Officer Scott Fisher to respond to the emergency.

Fisher, during a phone interview, described the severity of Branon’s injuries, including a forearm gash so deep that Branon’s tendon was visible.

The Independent reached out to state police to clarify its position on dog-related complaints. VSP Capt. Michael Manley said troopers will generally not respond to cases involving dog bite accidents. The VSP will, however, respond to dog-related incidents where there is clear criminal intent — such as if a dog owner were to order his or her animal to hurt someone. Troopers could also get involved if the dog in question were a frequent offender and the owner was not taking steps to deal with it, according to Manley.

“With a one-time accident (such as the Quimby case), I don’t see that going the criminal route,” Manley said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t civil liability.”

Ultimately, Branon was able to get inside her FedEx delivery van, and the state police dispatcher toned out Middlebury Regional EMS, which treated her on-site before taking her to the Porter Hospital Emergency Department to receive multiple stitches, according to testimony.

The attack has left Branon with more than physical injuries.

“I no longer look at dogs the way I used to,” Branon, who has three dogs of her own, said during an interview. “I never thought this could happen to me.”

Branon told Cornwall town officials she’s now afraid to deliver packages to homes with dogs, and that the attack was a “trauma,” according to the board decision.

Fortunately, Quimby was up-to-date on his vaccinations, officials said. While Quimby had never bitten anyone before, he had previously “jumped up” on one of his owners and had previously “nipped” someone, according to testimony at the hearing.

OWNERS FEEL AWFUL

Rick Durham, during a phone interview, said he and his family feel awful about the incident and have agreed to follow all of the selectboard’s conditions to save Quimby from being destroyed. In addition to the fence, obedience training and “beware of dog” sign, the Durhams:

•  Can’t let Quimby outdoors at any time “unless he is either in the enclosure or chained, or on a leash and under the direct physical control of the Durhams, their designee, a responsible immediate family member, or a professional dog trainer.”

•  Can’t allow Quimby off their property unless he’s on a leash, muzzled, crated, or “otherwise restrained so that he may not bite anyone.”

•  Must consult with a veterinarian about giving him Trazadone or “other appropriate anti-anxiety medication” to reduce the risk of Quimby attacking someone.

Any violation of the selectboard’s conditions “shall be grounds for immediate impoundment of Quimby and referral of this matter to the Civil Division of the Superior Court of Addison County for enforcement, which may include the humane destruction of Quimby to protect public safety,” the decision reads.

“We are as concerned as the town is about making sure this never happens again,” Durham said on Thursday after having purchased a 6-foot-tall chain link fence and supplies for around $1,500.

He acknowledged Branon did nothing to provoke the dog, and theorized Quimby might have attacked due to the combination of reaching the perimeter of his wireless electronic fence, and seeing a stranger.

“I think it was due to a convergence of unusual circumstances that this happened,” Durham said.

Quimby is 5 years old and is kept crated indoors when unattended, according to Durham. He is one of three dogs owned by the Durhams.

“We love Quimby and think he’s great,” Durham added. “We were very concerned the town could have ordered the dog destroyed.”

Branon would not say whether she thought the selectboard should have ordered Quimby destroyed, saying his owners should make that decision. But she was candid in saying she believed the selectboard’s decision was not severe enough and that she believes Quimby will hurt someone again — in spite of the actions his owners will now take to secure him.

“The bottom line is that this dog is going to try to do this to someone else,” Branon said, suggesting the constant crating of the animal is contributing to his disposition.

Branon is back on the job with FedEx. She expressed her gratitude to Middlebury police and Porter Hospital officials for the care she received. Branon said she hasn’t yet decided whether to pursue civil litigation against the Durhams. A scar on her forearm will provide her with a constant reminder of the incident.

“I just want the dog not to bite anyone again,” she said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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