In Calais, a dog attack launches a small town into unexpected territory



Published: 05-28-2023 9:49 AM

After a dog attack last week, Calais, Vt., is up in arms about what happened on the quiet dirt road and what to do about Trixie, the surviving Great Pyrennese of the incident.

On May 22, Mark Whitman filed a complaint under the town’s dog ordinance, stating that he was attacked by two dogs the evening of May 18 while running on Kent Hill Road, according to the Calais Selectboard, which held a public hearing on the incident Thursday night.

Later in the evening of May 18, the dogs’ owner, Elsa Ingpen, said she found one of them, a male named Paddington, dead in a ditch. She believes he was beaten to death, according to an interview she gave to Assistant Town Clerk Barbara Butler, and has contacted a game warden to investigate.

Roughly 30 people attended Thursday’s hearing, which lasted for two hours and took place in the Town Hall, directly across the dirt road from Ingpen’s house.

“You’re going to have to bear with us here,” said Anne Winchester, the selectboard chair, toward the end of the hearing. “We’re all brand new here, and we are feeling our way through this, like a lot of us.”

More than half of town government positions turned over in March, including the entire selectboard and the town clerk position. Calais does not have an animal control officer, which has placed the selectboard at the forefront of this debate, although there is an applicant seeking to fill the position.

The board voted to continue the hearing June 26.

According to the Calais dog ordinance, anyone may submit a complaint to the selectboard after a dog has bit them “without provocation.” The town ordinance dictates that the selectboard will hold a hearing on the matter within seven days of the filed complaint, as occurred on Thursday.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

If the selectboard decides that Trixie is “vicious,” it will send Ingpen a letter outlining actions that may include “that the dog is disposed of in a humane way, muzzled, chained or confined.”

If it finds Trixie to be a “nuisance,” not a danger, the punishment would be a $50 fine for Ingpen, according to the dog ordinance.

Winchester made clear that the point of Thursday’s hearing was to collect testimony about the alleged biting incident, not to investigate Paddington’s death, which falls outside the board’s purview. Still, the topic proved impossible to avoid.

According to written statements from Whitman, the two dogs owned by Ingpen attacked his hands and the back of his leg while he was running on Robinson Cemetery Road. Whitman said he then went to Ingpen’s house, and when she opened the door, she asked him, “Are my dogs loose?” After he left, he drove himself to a hospital emergency room and received medical treatment, according to his statement.

During Thursday’s meeting, Ingpen told the selectboard that Whitman, standing at her front door, had told her that “if I find them before you do, they’re dead.”

When Ingpen found the dogs the evening of May 18, Trixie and Paddington had porcupine quills in their mouths, which she told the selectboard was a potential factor in their aggressive behavior that night.

Butler and Cole Bliss, the animal control officer applicant, interviewed Ingpen on May 21. Reading from that interview transcript on Thursday, Butler said, “I then asked Elsa how she determined that the dog had been beaten to death versus being hit by a car, and she said because there was no blood. Elsa called the game warden on Friday morning to file a complaint for animal abuse by Mark Whitman.”

Whitman was not present at Thursday’s hearing, a fact that Ingpen brought up as a concern for how the selectboard would receive evidence. He did not respond to a phone call requesting comment Friday morning.

Several people delivered impassioned remarks about the incident, despite Winchester telling the audience, “This is not a hearing to hear what people have to say. It’s a hearing to collect evidence so that we can make a determination as to whether we need to take some action.”

Dina Brown, a Calais resident, was one of several who testified that she has experienced no aggressive behavior from Ingpen’s dogs, but she also urged the board to address Whitman’s alleged threat.

“I feel, with my bones, that you talk about the danger and the nuisance of something, you should really think of someone who makes a threat to a family, who has a dog, that ‘I’m going to kill them if I find them first,’ that is what you should consider a danger and a nuisance to this Calais community,” Brown said.

Brown’s comments drew some applause and words of agreement from others in the room.

Several people at the hearing testified they had experienced aggressive behavior with Ingpen’s dogs, including Doug Guy, who recalled riding a bike when he encountered Ingpen and Paddington on the road in November 2021.

“As I came parallel to her, the dog attacked, latched onto my butt. She pulled hard on the rope, and that swung me around and threw me into the ditch, with the dog on top of me,” Guy said. He later presented his torn pants to the town clerk. The animal health officer and the town health officer at the time filed reports about the incident, reports that Ingpen appeared to be unaware of at the hearing.

Ingpen disputed Guy’s version of the incident, claiming that he cut in front of her and crashed into Paddington. Since the incident occurred more than a year ago, it will not be considered a first offense for Ingpen or Trixie, according to Calais’s dog ordinance.

Ingpen also urged the selectboard to keep in mind that two other Great Pyrenees dogs in Calais have been confused with her dogs in the past.

“I’m very concerned that they are reported loose, and every day they have gotten out, were out, has been falsely attributed to my dogs,” Ingpen said.