Accusations fly in exchange between dog rescuer, town
FERRISBURGH — The dispute involving the town of Ferrisburgh, Sand Road dog rescuer Sheila McGregor and her neighbors shows no sign of an easy resolution and has included accusations of trespassing.
On Thursday afternoon Ferrisburgh selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel knocked on McGregor’s door at 2512 Sand Road to invite her in person to attend the July 17 board meeting to discuss issues surround a Ferrisburgh Board of Health order that imposes a number of conditions on her to eliminate a rat infestation that McGregor insists ended months ago, before the order was put in place.
Ebel copied the Independent with an email he sent to McGregor on Friday morning. It read in part:
“I stopped by your house yesterday at around 4:00-4:15PM. I knocked on the door but no one answered. The loud noise from dogs barking inside could have blocked out the sound of my knocking … I am contacting the animal control officer about the noise.
“I invite you to come to the July 17 Selectboard meeting to discuss the progress you have made regarding the Board of Health order. Specifically, the Board would like to know when the next inspection by Ehrlich Pest Control is scheduled and how many dogs you now have on your property.”
McGregor copied the Independent with her email response, which read in part:
“If our vehicles are not in the driveway, obviously no one is home. Dogs barking INSIDE the house when someone knocks on the door should not be an issue for anyone. The neighbors have repeatedly stated that we have dogs barking outside at all hours … Our general rule is that we don’t allow dogs to be barking outside from 9pm-7am daily.
“Please do not trespass on our property again. The property is clearly posted with no trespassing signs all around our property. I will be placing a complaint with the police about your obvious disregard for our signs.
“As I stated to Kristen (Deputy Health Officer Kristin DeBellis during a June 22 inspection related to the board of health order), our attempts to appease the town and neighbors has not worked, so we are all beyond that. We will discuss in court with lawyers and a judge handling communications.”
That exchange followed a Tuesday meeting in which DeBellis reported the largely favorable results of that inspection.
McGregor, who was not present on Tuesday, operates her rescue operation, Heidi’s Haven, at her home. It has triggered many complaints from neighbors over the years about noise and odor, and some about her dogs running loose.
At times McGregor has harbored more than 30 dogs in a ranch home that the town measures at 912 square feet, plus an attached garage and shed. She also has almost a dozen cats, and has recently added two pigs in a pen not far from her nearest a neighbor.
The town has also issued a notice of zoning violation on her operation that alleges her operation requires a permit in its zoning district. McGregor appealed that violation notice to court and it was not addressed on Tuesday. Ferrisburgh had spent more than $10,000 on legal fees as of June 20 in dealing with McGregor.
On Tuesday evening last week DeBellis reported to the selectboard about a June 22 follow-up inspection she attended with Ehrlich Pest Control’s district manager.
DeBellis said the company representative saw no evidence of rats, that odor was not a problem that day, and that McGregor had complied with many terms of the board of health order, including cleaning the yard of dog feces, at least for that visit; and moving most items away from interior and exterior walls to remove hiding places for rats.
DeBellis said the Ehrlich manager saw no evidence rats had touched bait in bait boxes. DeBellis said he suggested using “palatable material” to replace the poison in the bait boxes as a test to determine if there was any rat activity, and that one more visit should be enough to determine if the infestation had ended.
“The impression from the Ehrlich employee was that on the next visit all was done,” DeBellis said.
There was debate on what neighbor Lauren Fisher called a “giant pile” of dog feces in the woods to the rear of McGregor’s 1-acre property. Fisher and her mother, Kim Cynewski, said that McGregor composting dog feces on the lot violated the order, which called for removal of all dog feces from the property. Cynewski added she believed the fact that it is not enclosed made it not compost.
DeBellis also said there were 25 dogs at the home, more than the 21 there previously, but said Sheila told her four were just there for short stays as favors to acquaintances. McGregor echoed that contention in an email to the Independent.
Finally, DeBellis said McGregor told her that future communications between McGregor and Ferrisburgh officials would have to be done through their attorneys, and she was “done cooperating with the town.” DeBellis said she did not know when Ehrlich planned to make its final visit to assess the traps and whether the town would be notified.
Selectman Steve Gutowski noted that McGregor had stated at a hearing she would stop sheltering animals, “but she still has dogs,” and he was skeptical of the compost pile and McGregor’s level of cooperation.
“A compost pile is not a pile of dog crap,” he said. “I think we’re in a situation where she’s digging in her heels. We’re going to have to come at her forcefully.”
Selectboard Chairman Ebel said the Board of Health order stated she had to have five or fewer dogs by Sept. 30 and did not place interim limits, but the board agreed it should visit and assess the compost pile.
Ebel said he would contact McGregor directly, not call her attorney.
“Direct communication is best,” he said.
The Independent twice emailed McGregor to ask whether she would cooperate with town inspections and with the board of health order regarding the number of dogs.
In response to the first email the Independent was copied with four emails sent to Ebel with links stating the rats do not eat dog feces and that dog feces is compostable. An internet search revealed arguments on both sides of those points.
In response to the second email, McGregor again offered no direct answers. She responded in part:
“This is all a huge waste of time, money and energy for a problem which we addressed BEFORE the town got involved … There is ignorance and evil in the town of Ferrisburgh. A dangerous combination.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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