Town keeps pressure on Ferrisburgh dog rescuer

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday upheld an emergency health order against the occupant of 2512 Sand Road based on what the town’s health officer called in the order “an imminent and substantial public health risk” due to a rat infestation.
The order was directed to property tenant Sheila McGregor, who has operated the Heidi’s Haven dog rescue operation at the site. Her keeping as many as three-dozen dogs in a 912-square-foot ranch home with a one-car attached garage has generated neighbor complaints for at least a decade.
Selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel said on Wednesday that McGregor has contracted with a firm to professionally exterminate rats at 2512 Sand Road and on a neighboring property affected by the infestation, but not on the exact conditions requested in the emergency order written by Health Officer Jamieelyn Gaboriault.
Gaboriault ordered and Orkin Pest Control and selectboard members recommended removal of the roughly 20 dogs remaining at the property before treatment began. Gaboriault wrote in her order that rats would use dog feces “as a food source once other sources are removed.”
But Ebel said the firm McGregor hired believes the rats can be exterminated with the dogs on the site, and McGregor has also pledged to stop rescuing once she has found homes for the dogs now on a property owned by her brother.
Ebel said the selectboard, which acted as the board of health on Tuesday, scheduled a second hearing for May 8 to determine if McGregor is complying with the health order.
In Ebel’s words, the board “wanted to give Sheila an opportunity to show how she addressed the six items in the emergency health order.”
Item 1 was the removal of the dogs. The other five in the order were:
•  Within seven days clean the garage and a back room off it of all “food sources and kitty litter remnants” and seal all pet food in containers, and remove wall board in the back room to allow for pest inspection and put in new wall board.
•  Within two weeks clean all animal feces from the back yard and “apply fresh top soil and grass seed.”
•  Hire a pest control company to inspect the inside of the home within two days.
•  Hire a pest control company with “no exceptions on use of bait.” McGregor has been reluctant to use poison.
•  Consult with the company to apply bait boxes and take other measures to protect her immediate neighbor’s property.
Ebel said the board was happy McGregor had “actually signed a contract” with a pest control company.
Ebel said McGregor is “working on it” when asked about reducing the number of dogs, but acknowledged no progress has been made since the board met with McGregor on April 3.
“There are still a lot of dogs there,” he said. “There’s no reduction.”
McGregor told the board she was reluctant to move the dogs out quickly because of the expense on top of pest control.
“They saw the cost of placing them in boarding kennels,” Ebel said.
Before the May 8 follow-up hearing the town will make two official inspections of 2512 Sand Road. On April 30 the town’s assistant health officer, Selectman Steve Gutowski and Constable Jeff Warden are scheduled to meet onsite with the pest-control company, and Gaboriault will follow up on May 4.
Ebel said the selectboard, again acting as the board of health, will evaluate all the evidence on May 8 and determine what further steps, if any are necessary.
“If needed there will be enforcement actions from that,” he said.
Meanwhile the selectboard continues to work on two parallel tracks to deal with an issue that for years has generated complaints from neighbors about noise, smells and loose dogs.
Ferrisburgh Zoning Administrator Bonnie Barnes concluded that Heidi’s Haven is a home occupation in a residential district, and thus requires a conditional use permit. McGregor had until April 11 to apply for that permit according to a letter Barnes wrote to her in March.
On April 3 McGregor told the selectboard she had not applied because she had decided to stop rescuing after more than 35 years. Ebel said after the meeting if McGregor did not follow through with a zoning application Barnes would issue a notice of zoning violation.
On Wednesday Ebel said McGregor did not apply, and the board would ask for a specific target — to be determined — in reducing the number of dogs before seeking a violation notice.
“The zoning administrator is going to be following up with written documentation that she is not going to be continuing to run the rescue,” Ebel said. “If the dogs that are there continue to constitute a home occupation, that will kick into a zoning violation.”
Ebel also said earlier this month the selectboard would ask the planning commission to look into strengthening the town’s noise and odor zoning provisions, and whether new provisions could limit the number of dogs property owners could have based on the size of their land and structures.
Finally, a change in the town’s dog ordinance will be officially warned next week and become law on June 16. The board voted on April 3 to amend the law to include “rescue operations” as legal dog owners, a change that will allow them to enforce provisions of the ordinance — such as noise and licensing — on concerns such as Heidi’s Haven.

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