BENNINGTON -- A former Bennington County Sheriff's deputy who has been facing an animal cruelty charge for allegedly shooting a dog last year has been referred to the state's court diversion program.

Donald Loveland, 52, of Pownal, was scheduled for a jury draw Tuesday and to go to trial next week. He pleaded not guilty in November 2012 to a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty.

He will go before a reparative board and if he completes the board's requirements the charge will be removed from his record.

According to Vermont State Police, in August 2012 they spoke to Amber Kilbride, who was a neighbor of Loveland's, and whose dog, Maxx, slipped its collar the day before. Kilbride said she and her family searched for the dog, and were concerned because they heard two gunshots. They told police they asked Loveland about it, and he told them the dog had attacked his chickens and his girlfriend's dog, and that he had shot at the dog twice. According to police, he told them a similar story and was unsure if he had hit the animal.

Police said the dog's body was found nearby some days later and a .22 bullet fragment recovered from the body.

Loveland's attorney, William D. Wright, filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds that Vermont law allows a person to kill a domestic dog if it is threatening the person's livestock or other domestic animal. Wright said the police investigation was incomplete, and evidence showed his client shot at the dog because it was putting his chickens and other animals in danger. Wright said Loveland has lost chickens to a dog before.

According to Wright, Judge Cortland Corsones ruled the state had to prove Loveland was not acting to protect his chickens.

Wright said he was confident the trial would have ended favorably for his client, but to save on legal expenses the decision to accept diversion was made. "Donny has lost a lot," Wright said.

Loveland was suspended by the Sheriff's Department as per its policies, but he later resigned. "It's a good thing for Don to put this behind him," said Wright. "This has gone on for a long time."

He said Loveland will tell his side of the story to the reparative board, which is made up of community members, and hopefully they will reach a fair decision.

Messages left with the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office were not returned Monday.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.