By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — A local family has started a nonprofit organization to place abandoned dogs with families that are looking for pets, but in doing so, they have run afoul of Bristol’s regulations on dog ownership and control — not to mention having annoyed the neighbors.
JoAnne Bohannon of Bristol began working with stray or abandoned animals in the area of Bryan County, Ga., soon after Hurricane Katrina last year. Bohannon, who used to live in Georgia, said that many of the animals lost or made homeless by Katrina wound up in Georgia, and yet there are few or no animal shelters in that state that have a no-kill policy.
So the Bohannon family started Georgia Animal Rescue and Defence to bring stray dogs from Georgia to Vermont. According to Joy Bohannon, who has been working with her mother, JoAnne, in this effort, Vermont has plenty of people interested in adopting new pets.
“We have a lot of really nice dogs, and we just want to find them homes,” she said.
The Bohannons’ home at 7737 Plank Road in Bristol now has about 20 dogs. That number has been higher at times, but for the most part they have had between 20 and 25 dogs for several months, Joy Bohannon said.
In addition to dogs lost or abandoned in Bryan County, Georgia Animal Rescue has also taken in disabled dogs, like one puppy that was born blind due to being over bred or inbred. “We’re not going to turn anyone away, we have dogs coming in from Vermont, too,” Joy Bohannon said.
While they wait for more permanent homes for the dogs, Bohannon also said the organization is interested in finding foster homes for dogs, to get them ready for living with families.
However, the noise level in the neighborhood dramatically increased when the Bohannons’ animal shelter opened, and Bristol town administrator Bill Bryant said he has had received several complaints.
“It’s an interesting concept (to help dogs like this) but whether it’s in the right location and whether it’s complying with all the rules it should comply with is another issue,” Bryant said.
Bohannon said that they had the necessary kennel permit from the Vermont Department of Agriculture, as well as records of all the necessary shots. “Every dog we bring up gets their rabies shot, their distemper, they get everything,” she said.
But according to Bryant, the nonprofit organization also needs permission from the town of Bristol itself, and he said in his role as administrator he would not support that permission as things stand right now.
“Given that the complaints about barking and noise, I’m not inclined to issue that (kennel permit) unless the selectboard is in accordance with it,” he said. He could not go into specifics about what he would do until after he had talked to the selectboard about the latest complaints, which he said he plans to do at the next board meeting, which is on Monday, Nov. 20.
There have been three written complaints to Bryant. Bristol resident Ray Litchfield, who lives a little down the road from the Bohannons, disagrees with the shelter but did not file one of the complaints himself. “My biggest concern is the health factor and the barking nuisance,” he said.
Litchfield also felt that Vermont had no shortage of stray or abandoned dogs, and bringing in more from out of state might only add to the problem. “We’ve got enough of a rescue problem in our own state and county,” he said. “At any given time, there’s one or two running loose.”
Bohannon thought the noise problem would get better on its own soon as she and others working with Georgia Animal Rescue start moving the dogs to a different place. She said the family is looking into two different locations to take the dogs before they are placed with families, one at a farm in Shoreham and one in the Burlington area.
In both places, she said, the shelter would find it easier to get along with the neighbors, partly because the number of dogs at either place is likely to be smaller than it is at the Bohannons’ home right now.
Bohannon said that despite the problems with their neighbors many people from elsewhere in the state have been appreciative of their work. “There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing, (but) it’s been a wonderful response,” she said.
And most importantly, she said, they have found homes for a lot of dogs. “They go basically from trash to treasure,” she said.