DRACUT -- Among his first actions as Dracut's new town manager, James Duggan took on the role of "dog hostage" negotiator.
A two-week-old dispute between Wignall Animal Hospital and resident Josh Taylor over nearly $500 worth of unpaid veterinary services for Taylor's 9-year-old, black-and-white border collie/Labrador mix, Bear, landed on Duggan's desk June 20, and was resolved by the town manager on Monday.
Taylor's dog, which he referred to on his Facebook page during the two-week standoff as a "hostage," was returned by Wignall to its grateful owner at no cost, Taylor and Duggan said.
"Over the weekend I reviewed the letter Mr.
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Bear had escaped Taylor's home on Lincoln Lane and went missing in the early-morning hours of Sunday, June 8, he said. Hours later that morning, a friend informed Taylor that one of their neighbors on Pheasant Lane, in the vicinity of Taylor's home, had found the apparently stray dog. Because the dog was wearing only a collar with no ID tag, the neighbor promptly drove it to the well-known regional animal hospital on Bridge Street to be cared for.
Taylor said immediately upon learning of Bear's whereabouts he phoned Wignall around 2:30 p.m. and was informed by a manager that he needed to pay for multiple vaccinations and shots Bear had received in order to gain the dog's release.
The rest of the conversation was not pleasant, according to Taylor.
"I told them he was up to date on his shots, and they could check his records at Countryside (Veterinary Hospital in Chelmsford), and 'I'm not paying you.' We had a shouting match over the phone," Taylor said.
Taylor said among their points of disagreement, Wignall staff told him he should have reported the dog missing to the animal-control officer immediately.
"I'm not going to wake up the animal-control officer at midnight when the dog got out," said Taylor. "I live out in the middle of farm fields. The dog gets out. It happens. He's a dog. Usually, he comes back in an hour. I didn't realize somebody else picked him up and took him down there (to Wignall)."
It would be his last conversation with a Wignall employee until Duggan stepped in to resolve the conflict, and Taylor picked up his dog on Monday.
"Bear was really happy to see me. He was clean, nicely groomed, and they even gave him medication for his ear infection," Taylor said minutes after picking up his dog. "They were very nice while I was there."
Despite being happy about his reunion with Bear, Taylor said he still planned to pursue state legislation to require Wignall and other veterinary businesses to hold the strays they take in for at least 24 hours before administering expensive shots or treatment, in order to allow pet owners that window of time to contact them.
"If my dog was there for a day, overnight, or something, I wouldn't have had any argument. I would've gone to Wignall, said there's your money, thanks for taking care of him, and that would've been it," said Taylor. "But the fact he was only there for a couple of hours, that was the game-changer for me, and the reason I went off the way I have on them.
"There needs to be some type of reform to require a quarantine period," Taylor added. "It's a disservice to the people of Dracut that if a dog gets picked up -- either by animal control or a good Samaritan -- and it goes to Wignall, they immediately give the dog all these shots they have no right to give."
Mancini said she feels "very badly" that Taylor was upset by what transpired. However, a difficult situation could have been avoided had Taylor properly obtained a $10 dog license for Bear from Town Hall as required annually, and name tag, Mancini said.
Mancini also said Wignall staff might have identified Bear through the computer chip he was wearing when found, but could not because it contained only the dog's medical history ending with his former owner.
Bear's previous owner, who had him since birth, is an 80-year-old Chelmsford woman who was forced to surrender the rambunctious dog last year to a humane shelter after Bear knocked her down and injured her, Taylor said.
Taylor admitted that since acquiring Bear in January he failed to register his dog with the town, or update the computer chip with the new ownership information.
Mancini recommended that pet owners obtain required town licenses for their pets, and computer chips with updated medical histories to prepare for the remotest possibility that their cats or dogs may go missing, as in this case.
"You can imagine there are all different circumstances and reasons why an animal can be picked up and brought in to us," Mancini said. "The tough thing that really puts us in a difficult situation is when an animal comes in without an ID, and we don't even know who owns the dog. That puts us at ground zero.
"Meanwhile," she added, "our main job is to make sure the animal is in good health, and recommend if there's anything emergent that needs to be taken care of."
Taylor said Duggan's only stipulation for arranging the pickup of Bear at Wignall for no charge was that Taylor remove numerous postings criticizing the animal hospital on his Facebook page, a condition that Taylor complied with.
Both Mancini and Taylor said over the past two weeks they had several conversations about the dispute with Dracut Animal Control Officer Joni Babaletos acting as a go-between, prior to Duggan becoming involved.
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