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Fatal shooting of dog spurs investigation in Tunbridge

  • Steve Mortillo with his dog, Scout, in a photograph he posted on Facebook on Tuesday. Photo: courtesy of Steve Mortillo courtesy of Steve Mortillo

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/28/2022 1:49:00 AM
Modified: 4/28/2022 10:49:45 PM

TUNBRIDGE — Vermont authorities are investigating the shooting of an 11-year-old German shepherd whose owner found her dead a few hundred yards from his home in Tunbridge.

The Vermont Warden Service said it has opened an investigation after the owner discovered the dog’s remains on April 23 near his home on Russell Road. The dog had been missing since April 20.

Jeffrey Whipple, a game warden with Vermont Fish & Wildlife who lives in the neighboring town of Vershire and responded to the scene Saturday, said the dog went missing after the owner let her out around 5 p.m. the previous Wednesday. He said the owner found his dog’s body about 400 yards from his property.

The Warden Service did not disclose the name of the dog or its owner. But Tunbridge resident Steve Mortillo posted on the Lost and Found Pets of the Upper Valley Facebook group on April 21 at 8:31 p.m. that his 11-year-old German shepherd named Scout had gone missing the day before near Russell Road.

Mortillo’s post, which was accompanied by a photograph of Scout, was shared by 216 other group members.

Then late Tuesday night Mortillo again posted another photograph of him and Scout, announcing “I found our beloved dog, Scout, dead on Saturday, April 23rd. Game wardens are investigating the circumstances of her death.”

Mortillo did not respond to a request for comment and said on his Facebook post that he and his family “are not taking media inquiries until (the Warden Service’s) investigation is complete.”

Whipple said the Warden Service does not typically become involved in the investigation of pet fatalities, but he took the lead because he was the first officer to respond and he is familiar with the area and its residents.

Prosecutions for cruelty to animals are rare but they do happen.

In 2014, a Newbury, Vt., man was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty-fatal after he shot and killed a neighbor’s 7-year-old German shepherd that became ensnared in one of his hunting traps.

The dog’s owner had found her shepherd in the trap with a bullet wound to his head by tracing his tracks in the snow after he had not come home on the prior evening.

The owner of the hunting trap told Vermont State Police that he tried to release the dog out of the trap but claimed it was “acting aggressively” and he didn’t know what else to do. Authorities said the trap owner had other options, however, such as calling the police or Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

The man, who had no prior criminal record, pleaded guilty a month later and was sentenced from three months to one year in jail, all suspended with one year probation, according to Vermont state court records. He also was prohibited from trapping or having any contact with the dog’s owner and ordered to be a $500 fine plus a $75 victim restitution surcharge.

Exceptions under Vermont statutes as to when a person may lawfully kill a “wolf-hybrid” is when a person is being attacked by an unrestrained dog or when “attendant circumstances” threatening livestock “are such that the killing is reasonably necessary to prevent injury to the animal or fowl that is the subject of the attack.”

In recent weeks the topic of loose dogs threatening livestock surfaced on the Tunbridge community Facebook group when a member posted a question asking whom she could contact if there are dogs are threatening her chickens. Several members posted reply comments calling out the alleged owner of the offending dogs.

The incident occurred in a different part of Tunbridge from where Mortillo resides, and a dog owner, not Mortillo, apparently acknowledged that one of her dogs was the culprit.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.


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