Douglas dog owner defends animal’s actions after fatal attack

Dangerous dog sign

This sign, obtained at the Gastineau Humane Society, must be posted in plain view on the property of an owner of a dangerous dog. CBJ code specifies that a dog may be classified as dangerous if – among other conditions – it kills another animal off of the owner’s property and without provocation. GHS officials say there are 13 such signs currently posted within the CBJ. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

The owner of a dog that killed another during an attack in Douglas last Thanksgiving defended himself and his animal in two venues last week, before the CBJ Assembly at City Hall and before a judge at the Dimond Court Building.

A decision is still pending in the former proceeding. As for the latter, Jody Vick was found guilty of failure to acquire a special collar and tags for a dangerous dog, failure to maintain liability insurance for a dangerous animal, and ‘objectionable menacing’ for an animal that caused injury to another. But Vick was acquitted of a charge alleging that he did not properly post a sign warning of a dangerous dog.

Juneau District Court Judge Keith Levy presided over the bench trial that lasted less than an hour on Wednesday morning, July 23rd.

Denise Vanderpol testified that she witnessed part of the event after she heard dogs screeching and barking near her home in Douglas. Sushi, a pitbull-mastiff mix that was at least 60 pounds was being walked by Vick with three other dogs. It got into a fight with Sophie, a smaller Shiz Tsu mix estimated at about 8 pounds.

“The big dog had a hold of the little dog by the throat and was shaking it,” Vanderpol said.

“Mr. Vick was trying to pull the dog away and was kicking it. We were all screaming,” remembered Vanderpol. “It ripped its throat apart and had it on the ground. Then, it went for its belly and started biting into its belly.”

It was a very vicious, frightening attack.”

The citation for objectionable menacing was issued shortly after the incident, dismissed, and then later reissued. The other three citations were issued after an appeal to the Animal Control Board in January.

For his part, Vick said his dog Sushi was first attacked by Sophie and actually suffered injuries on the nose.

“The defense is the small dog bit my dog first,” Vick said. “So, he was provoked.”

Judge Levy said he didn’t think that was an adequate defense.

Vick reported ambiguity and confusion with how and where to obtain the dangerous dog signs, and was only able to find a ‘Beware of dog’ and ‘No trespassing’ signs at local hardware stores.

Vick also said he was told by his broker that he could not get homeowners insurance if he had a dangerous animal on the premises. His current insurance would even be canceled.

Matthew Musselwhite, the current executive director of Gastineau Humane Society and former director of Animal Control and Protection, told Judge Levy that such insurance was available.

“Alternatively, there’s many third-party insurers that cover just dangerous dogs or dog breeds that may not be covered by regular homeowner’s insurance,” Musselwhite said.

There are some homeowner’s insurances that will restrict by breed as to what they will cover.”

Vick must pay a combined fine of $150 within 30 days for three citations in which he was found guilty. The citations were strict liability offenses, meaning that it did not have to be proven that a defendant committed the violation intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. The dangerous animal designation was appealed to the Assembly.

Musselwhite said they did not advocate for impounding or destroying the animal.

In addition, Musselwhite said that Vick has been proactive in complying with city code following the court hearing, and he obtained a special collar, tag, and sign from GHS on Thursday.

Dangerous dog collar and tag

An example of a special collar and tag that must be worn by a dog that is determined to be dangerous. CBJ code also specifies that the animal must be muzzled if it is taken off of the owner’s property. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Meanwhile, Vick had appealed the Animal Board’s decision that it was an unprovoked attack to the Juneau Assembly. Last Monday, July 21st, the panel took oral arguments in the case.

Vick’s attorney, Mark Choate, based the appeal on the lack of evidence. He said there simply were no witnesses to the incident except Vick.

“No one saw the initiation of it except Mr. Vick,” Choate said. “Everyone saw it afterwards and afterwards, it was horrific.”

Representing Animal Control, city attorney Christopher Orman said the Assembly should look at the whole animal control record of direct and circumstantial evidence.

“In light of the weight of the entire record, the Animal Control Board’s decision was supported by substantial evidence,” Orman said. “So, I request that the Animal Control Board’s decision be affirmed.”

After Monday’s appeal, the Assembly met in executive session. Assembly member Jesse Kiehl was the hearing officer for the case. He said the city attorney is now drawing up the decision for assembly review.

“Once we’ve done that, that proposed decision will go out to the parties,” Kiehl said. “Both the Animal Control Board and the Vicks will get a copy. They’ll have a few days in which they can return comments to us. Then the Assembly will need to meet and adopt the final decision in open session.”

The two dogs had reportedly interacted before the Thanksgiving incident without any problems.

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