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Ferrisburgh dog rescuer moves; legal actions on hold

FERRISBURGH — What has been both a long-running feud among Sand Road neighbors and an expensive legal battle for the town of Ferrisburgh appears to be coming to an end.
According to Facebook posts by Sand Road dog rescuer Sheila McGregor, whose nonprofit operation has triggered complaints from neighbors for more than a decade, she has moved to a 35-acre property in Williamstown and will do business there.
Selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel said last week he had no direct knowledge of where McGregor was headed, but confirmed her attorney and the town attorney were acting to end legal proceedings and discussing “a potential real estate transaction” that would mean McGregor would move.
And one of McGregor’s Facebook posts included Sept. 2 pictures labeled, “1st sunrise at our new home.”
McGregor did not respond before deadline to an email and a Facebook message seeking comment.
Her neighbors, speaking outside this past Tuesday’s selectboard meeting, said that dogs have not been barking at 2512 Sand Road and that pigs McGregor had been keeping on the property are gone.
“We haven’t heard anything,” said neighbor Lauren Fisher.
She and her husband, Ricky Fisher, have complained for the past two years about noise, smells, loose dogs, and, this year, a rat infestation at 2512 Sand Road. There, McGregor, doing business as Heidi’s Haven, has kept or fostered up to 30 dogs in a 912-square-foot ranch home and an attached garage and shed on about an acre.
The Fishers had decided to sell their home, in which they said they had not lived in recent weeks because of the conditions next door, but the recent news has changed their minds. “If she’s gone,” they’ll move back in and stay put, Lauren Fisher said last week.
Neighbors, who have been a regular sight at selectboard meetings this year, have been frustrated: Ricky Fisher carried a dead rat in a freezer bag to the front of one of several crowded selectboard meetings to illustrate the infestation had spread to his family’s property. Ebel then called for a recess.
At another meeting Lauren Fisher and McGregor raised their voices and accused each other of lying.
Relations between town officials and McGregor also became strained. McGregor in one email accused Ebel of trespassing this summer when he knocked on her door to invite her to a meeting, and in another email to Ebel and the Independent said there was “ignorance and evil” in Ferrisburgh.
Other neighbors, including Lisa and Scott Brace, who operate a child-care business two homes down from 2512 Sand Road, had complained to town officials for much longer, but unsuccessfully.
But officials this year acted more aggressively on complaints. New zoning administrator Bonnie Barnes ruled McGregor needed a permit to run a home occupation. And after town health officers investigated the rat infestation the Ferrisburgh Board of Health (essentially the selectboard acting in that capacity) issued an order that imposed a number of conditions on McGregor, including that she reduce the number of dogs on a property that she was renting from her brother.
McGregor appealed to Vermont Environmental Court the zoning violation notice she received in April after she refused to apply for the permit. She stated her operation was grandfathered because it had operated for 15 years with town knowledge.
She also appealed the board of health order to the Vermont Board of Health, stating the rat infestation had been dealt with. Inspections showed the infestation was not active, but town officials said she did not meet with all conditions of the order, including reduction in the number of dogs and removal of dog feces.
The selectboard also tweaked town zoning laws and its dog ordinance, hoping to help prevent similar situations in the future.
As of late June the town had already spent more than $10,000 in legal fees related to McGregor and Heidi’s Haven.
At last week’s selectboard meeting Ebel said the town will enforce the board of health order if necessary, but he expects that the move should resolve the issues — and end the drain on the town budget.
“We did agree with the stay in order to save the town some money,” Ebel said. “We can activate it if we have to, but hopefully it’s a moot point.”
Attorneys on both sides also agreed to seek a stay on Environmental Court proceedings, and Ebel said the town is waiting to hear confirmation that stay will be granted.
McGregor’s Facebook posts describe her new venture as “Heidi’s Haven Canine Camp Dog Boarding and Training.”
Ebel said town officials, from what little they can piece together without official confirmation from McGregor, believe the new setting sounds more appropriate for her goals.
“We’re wishing Sheila well. From what we understand it’s another dog rescue, a kennel, a larger situation,” Ebel said. “That would be great.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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