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Dog owner drops legal action against town after

Dan McClelland

Mark Dewyea late last week withdrew his small claims legal action against the Town of Tupper Lake for the balance of veterinarian bills he owed for his tiny dog's over one dozen surgeries last year. His action came after his outstanding bills were satisfied by two anonymous donors.

In August 2018 Mark's tiny terrier, Jackson Browne, was attacked in the front yard of the family's Fourth Ave. home by a German Shepherd that had escaped from a village patrol car. Village Patrolman Mike Vaillancourt and town dog control officer Wayne LaPierre had picked the dangerous dog up earlier and tried to recapture it near the Dewyea driveway after it escaped from the rear of the patrol car.

The bigger dog grabbed the tiny 12-pound dog by the neck and head and nearly killed it, resulting in about $5,000 worth of surgeries at the High Peaks Animal Hospital in Ray Brook to save it in the weeks which followed. Officer Vaillancourt shot and wounded the 130-pound attacking dog, saving the smaller dog's life.

On Thursday, March 14, the pet owner appeared before the town board to ask it to pay the $1,572 balance of the bills at the veterinary hospital, where the dog was cared for over four weeks.

He said the reason he was putting some of the blame on the town was because the dog control officer was partially responsible for “corralling” the dangerous German Shepherd into his front yard.

“If Jackson Browne had been out on the street when he was attacked that would be an entirely different thing and I wouldn't be standing before you tonight,” he told the town officials that evening.

Asking the town leaders for help, he said their insurance company, the New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal, had denied the claim he made against the village and town last year. Both the village and town have the same insurance carrier. According to Mr. Dewyea, the claim was denied by the company because neither municipality carries negligence insurance.

He claimed that through the actions of their police officer and dog catcher, the village and town governments here were negligent.

In reviewing the claims openly that evening Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield revealed that the village board agreed to pay $1,572 after NYMIR denied the claim.

A Go Fund Me campaign generated another $325 and after the German Shepherd's owner paid a small sum and after other payments of about $625, a balance of $1,572 was left that Mr. Dewyea wanted the town to pay.

After some back and forth between Supervisor Littlefield and the pet owner over the documents re-presented to her that evening, the supervisor announced she felt it would be setting “bad precedent” for the town to pay a claim their insurance carrier refused to pay.

She listed some of the payments made on the bill by the various parties.

Mrs. Littlefield promised Mr. Dewyea to pursue the matter with Town Attorney Kirk Gagnier and get back to him at some point.

She also suggested he pursue legal action in town small claims court, which he did Wednesday, before Judge Len Young.

He told town officials on March 14 he didn't want to sue the town, but the outstanding bills left him no choice if the town didn't help him.

Because the local town court cannot hear a case against the town government, the decision where to hear it was referred to County Judge Robert Main.

The action didn't get that far, however, as a veterinarian from the High Peaks Hospital called Mark Friday and told him his bill had been satisfied by two anonymous donors.

A few minutes later Mark said he called Court Clerk Laurie Fuller and told her to rip up the paperwork against the town.

Mark said Monday he was very thankful for the gifts to clear up his bill at the animal hospital and happy he didn't have to sue the town.

Several members of the village board- including Trustees Ron LaScala and Clint Hollingsworth and Mayor Paul Maroun- were upset with their counterparts on the town board who didn't immediately help Mark Dewyea with some of the hospital bills, as they had done.

Village officials were also upset with the town supervisor for reading all the payment amounts aloud at her board meeting.

“I think the town board members should be ashamed of themselves for not making good on this small invoice that is a lot more detrimental to Mr. Dewyea than it is the town,” Trustee Hollingsworth was quoted as saying last week.

Trustee Ron LaScala said last week that good boards have to sometimes look beyond the legal question and act on the side of what's ethical and what's moral. “Sometimes it's all about doing the right thing!”

He said Monday he was pleased to see the two donors step up and help the local pet owner out of a tough situation, none of which was his fault.