BENNINGTON -- An East Road dog owner who has been at the center of noise complaints in past months was fined for two violations of the town’s noise ordinance at a court hearing Friday.
Assistant Judge James Colvin found Dereck Jensen had violated the noise ordinance regarding barking dogs on two occasions, once on April 21 and another time on April 27. He imposed a $100 fine for each offense, plus court fees. The case was heard through Bennington Superior Court Civil Division.
Jensen owns approximately 12 pit bulls which he keeps in enclosures at his rented home. Jensen enters the dogs into shows and pulling events. At least half a dozen neighbors say the dogs bark at numerous times during the day and do so for longer than 15 minutes at a stretch, which is the limit the town has set for continuous barking. Neighbors have called Bennington Police many times over barking issues. Jensen said he has three other pending citations, which he told The Banner he plans to contest as well as appeal the decisions on the two fines he’s received.
The Town of Bennington has also been granted a preliminary injunction, which gives it the authority to impound Jensen’s dogs. On Wednesday a final injunction hearing was held, at which Judge Cortland Corsones gave the town’s attorney, Robert Woolmington, seven days to respond to a legal claim Jensen made saying that the town cannot seize dogs except in cases of neglect.
Jensen made a similar claim at Friday’s hearing, citing information he obtained on Vermont law from the Animal Legal and Historical Center, which according its website is a project by the Michigan State University College of Law. He said his dogs are "working dogs" and the town could not fine him for their barking.
Colvin said the information Jensen was referring to clearly referenced "working farm dogs" and asked Jensen if he lived on a farm or owned livestock. Jensen said he does not, and so Colvin did not agree with him. Jensen said his hobby is unusual, and given that Vermont has a long history of agriculture, he felt the law would cover his situation if it were more prevalent.
That was the finding made on the first citation for April 21. For the second violation, Bennington Police Officer William DiNunzio, who acted as prosecutor, called four people to the stand. One was Barbara Allard, a neighbor of Jensen’s, who said on April 27 she heard the dogs barking for longer than 15 minutes. She said there have been barking issues before and said Jensen had threatened her. She said because of the dog issue she and her husband, Bryan Allard, have put their house up for sale. Bryan Allard also testified about the noise and the house being for sale. He said the noise has become too much of a problem and has caused an emotional strain on him and his wife.
Robert Mayer, another of Jensen’s neighbors, also testified to the noise and said the problem has persisted for some time now and noted that he is unable to enjoy the use of his backyard because of the barking.
Jensen questioned Mayer and the Allards as to whether they had seen his dogs barking or if they had assumed it was his dogs. Each said they had not seen them bark, but could tell from the sound the animals were his. Jensen had argued the barking could have been his landlord’s two dogs, who are kept at a house on the same parcel of land.
Melissa Collette, whose husband Jensen rents from, said she does not hear her tenant’s dogs that often and only keeps her dogs outside when she is home.
Colvin said he did not think the witnesses would have to see the dogs moving their mouths to determine which ones were barking, plus DiNunzio said when he arrived to the April 27 complaint he saw the dogs bark.
Part of Jensen’s argument was that a police car being in his driveway would make the dogs bark. He also said there were no recordings of the dogs barking for more than 15 minutes.
Such was not the case at the injunction hearing where Mayer played a 15-minute recording of what he said was Jensen’s dogs making noise. At that hearing, Jensen said he has recently purchased an electronic barking control device which emits an unpleasant noise only dogs can hear when the animals bark, but it takes some time to train them to react to it.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.