It was an uneasy start to the new term for Wellesley councillors Tuesday night, as the returning politicians opened their inaugural session mediating a contentious argument between neighbours.
Linwood residents Mark and Cobi Stecho appeared at council to request a reversal of an earlier decision by township bylaw enforcement requiring their dog, a male boxer named Doug, to be muzzled outdoors.
The Stechos argued their dog was an excitable but harmless family pet, while neighbour Carey Soehner, who’s initial complaint sparked the intervention, claimed the animal to be a dangerous nuisance.
Soehner appeared as a delegation as well to request that the order, issued on September 27, be upheld and enforced by the township.
After hearing both sides of the story, councillors voted in a 3-2 decision to lift the order, instead requiring that the pet be supervised when outdoors. Failure to follow the ruling would reinstate the muzzle order.
“As a parent and a pet owner, it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of my children and pets,” said Soehner. “Due to the incidents which have occurred with Mr. Stecho’s boxer, I cannot ensure that either of these responsibilities can be followed through.”
Soehner argued that the boxer had twice escaped from the Stechos’ property into her backyard. On one of these occasions, Soehner said Doug had attacked her own dog, Max, biting him.
The method of escape was contested by the neighbours, with Soehner saying she had witnessed Doug digging under the Stechos’ fencing through a gap created by a sloping gradient. The Stechos in turn claimed the dog had gotten out due to a malfunction with their gate, which had been damaged in a storm; the Stechos added they had fixed the gate as soon as they detected the problem and were certain Doug couldn’t escape again.
“The second incident in my backyard, my one-year-old son was in the boxer’s line of attack,” said Soehner. “It is evident that boxer is able to dig out of his fenced yard, and because of this and his aggressive nature, he is a danger to my family and my pets.”
Soehner also accused Doug of once grabbing her foot from underneath the fence while she was working on her garden, “which I was able to release by sticking a shovel underneath the fence towards his face.”
The Stechos, however, said their dog was not a vicious animal, but playful and friendly, and said the initial investigation by the township’s bylaw enforcement officer had been insufficient.
“To say that Doug aggressively attacked and bit someone or another animal is a fabrication formulated by someone who clearly doesn’t like us or our pet boxer,” said Mark Stecho. “There has never been any proof of the complaints or reports made about Doug. We feel that reports were fabricated purely out of spite and the muzzle order was based on speculation and hearsay.”
Though councillors voted to overturn the muzzle order, the decision was far from unanimous. Carl Schmidt and Peter van der Maas supported maintaining the muzzle order, while fellow councillors Shelley Wagner and Herb Neher sought another solution.
A review of video footage provided by Soehner of Doug did little to settle the answer, with some councillors feeling the dog was displaying signs of aggression, and the others suggesting the dog was simply excited.
Soehner said the boxer was often left in the Stecho yard without supervision during the workweek, prompting Wagner to suggest foregoing the muzzle in favour of adult supervision.
“My only concern is that if the dogs are outside during the working day that no one is there to observe them if they should get out,” said Wagner. “And we as pet owners have a responsibility to make sure, so I would say we should have some type of a condition that the dogs should not be left to their own devices during the working day when no one is home. Because Doug sounds like a little bit of a Houdini.”
Neher agreed, saying they could try Wagner’s proposal for a few months and see how well it worked. Schmidt, however, rejected the need to give the situation more time and voted against the proposal.
“I need to say I disagree strongly. There’s two incidents where the dog was on the property. Even the videos, she’s taking those videos from quite a distance away, and then dog is snarling and jumping and acting really aggressive. To me. But what do we have to wait for? Do I want my grandkids in that next-door yard with that dog? Not a chance.”
Breaking the tie was Mayor Joe Nowak who, while expressing confidence in bylaw enforcement’s investigation, nonetheless favoured the compromise.