Controversial dog rescue raises concerns in new location

Published: Dec. 31, 2019 at 4:21 PM EST
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A Williamstown public health officer has stepped down after town officials failed to support his efforts to tighten oversight of dog rescue operations. The dispute centers on Heidi's Haven, a shelter that was run out of Ferrisburgh last year after concerns from local zoning and health officials.

"Most of the dogs are kept in plastic crates or metal kennels that don't meet statutory regulations," said Don Angolano, Williamstown's now former health officer.

He says he stepped down Monday night after the selectboard would not support an ordinance that would force dog rescues to get a permit to operate in the town. Angolano wanted the ordinance for Heidi's Haven and its owner, Sheila McGregor. "Shelia is not bad. Shelia is not trying to abuse these animals. She is not trying to hurt them. Shelia is overwhelmed by 56 dogs," Angolano said.

McGregor relocated the shelter from Ferrisburgh in September 2018 after complaints from neighbors and town officials threatening to pursue zoning and health violations.

At the Williamstown property, only a few dogs were visible outside Tuesday, along with a cat and a pig. McGregor and volunteers were walking dogs, but she declined to comment.

Angolono says he has fielded complaints from community members and presented evidence of subpar conditions after working with veterinarians and the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "There have been vets up there that have checked out all of the dogs and have voiced some concerns," Angolano said. "There were dogs there that had open wounds and sores on them."

The proposed ordinance, Angolano says, would have given the town the ability to regulate the operation to ensure the dogs are well cared for. "This would have just brought her numbers down. This would have required her to have more oversight from the animal control officer and myself or a designated health officer," he said.

"We didn't feel like it was a good fit for our town at this time," said Williamston Selectboard Vice-chair Jasmin Couillard. She says the board rejected the proposal because they have not heard complaints and were concerned the ordinance was directed at just one person. Any legal action is now in the hands of the selectboard. "If there is a problem found, we will turn it over to the state."

The Williamstown town clerk says she has never heard any complaints about Heidi's Haven or Shelia McGregor.