Canisteo pooch at center of controversy returned to owners

CANISTEO — After a social media firestorm convinced local authorities to seize a dog from its 4643 state Route 36 home in the Town of Canisteo, Gary Hadsell, Town Dog Control Officer, has decided the property and the owners are both fit for Jack the dog’s return. 

Jack became the center of controversy on New Year’s Eve when a public information campaign was waged by a neighbor and high profile attorney Susan Chana Lask Esq. about his living conditions and exposure to the elements 24 hours a day for four years.

At Monday’s Canisteo board meeting, Supervisor Steven Weed updated the public, announcing that the dog was being sheltered, cleaned and fed at the town shelter. No charges were filed or citations issued in the case, and on Tuesday, the dog was returned to his owners.

Weed pushed back at the public pressure applied in the situation, stating that in a two day period he received more than 130 emails on the subject, and was “perplexed” by the situation. 

The supervisor condemned the abuse of animals, but deferred to the judgement of law enforcement.

“What has happened has happened, and I appreciate people putting into this. I don’t have any time for a dog that’s abused in any way shape or manner. If the dog was outside and chained, then that is abuse in one form, but take this one step further, our law enforcement folks were called upon to render a decision, and when they come to that decision, there’s not one to be made. Their hands are tied ... There’s not something concrete on the books,” he said. 

The supervisor rigorously defended Hadsell. 

“He’s been viciously attacked, and I take a burn to that,” he said. “He does a great job for us, and I can’t think of anyone who would want his job for what he gets paid.”

While the dog has been safe, dry and fed in the town’s shelter, Jack was not evaluated by a vet prior to his return to the state Route 36 property on Tuesday.  

“I can assure you, the dog is fine. If the dog was sick, Gary would take him to the vet,” Weed said. 

Jack was brought in to be viewed by the board prior to the public meeting.

“This dog is healthy and fat, between 80 and 100 pounds. If the dog was mistreated and not fed, he wouldn’t be,” Hadsell said.

According to Canisteo clerk records, Jack’s owners licensed the dog and proof of vaccination was provided for the years 2016 and 2017, but she could not speak to previous years, before her time in office.

Hadsell said that Jack would be returned to his owners. The announcement prompted loud push-back on both sides of the issue during a public comment period.

“He’s going to a place where they will love him. I paid $300 for a 10’x10’ kennel for this dog. This dog is going back to the owner, but it will be in a kennel and not tied up. He will have a dog house that all of us have seen, and will have food and water,” Hadsell responded to criticism. 

Sandra Rapp, representing the Hornell Area Humane Society, was also present at the meeting. She told the board that the Humane Society had offered fencing and a free dog house to Jack’s owners, only to have it returned to them.

Steuben County Undersheriff John McNelis spoke to their ability to act in cases of perceived neglect.

“The Ag and Markets laws are a little vague and subject to interpretation, but we have to work within the parameters of that law. Any police officer in the country could tell you that we see things every day that don’t seem fair to us personally or subjectively, it doesn’t rise to the standard of being a violation of the law. Sometimes that’s kind of a tough pill to swallow,” he said. 

“We don’t dismiss any of the complaints we get,” he said. “We look into these things.”

State Senator Tom O’Mara is currently co-sponsoring legislation relevant to the situation. Senate legislation would make the failure to provide food, water or appropriate shelter to a companion animal left outside a felony; another proposal would impose additional penalties upon persons convicted of animal abuse.

“I have appreciated the opportunity over the past several years to work closely with many of my legislative colleagues to begin to strengthen the laws and criminal penalties associated with animal abuse and neglect. These are heartless, horrific, and violent crimes that demand our attention and action. It’s widely recognized and accepted that anyone who would commit an act of animal cruelty often turns their violent and uncontrollable behavior toward humans. It’s a ‘bridge crime’ and it needs to be addressed as seriously and strongly as possible,” O’Mara said. 

Whether or not significant change happens in the state legislature, New York City-based attorney Susan Chana Lask said she will reach out to the New York state Attorney General’s Office. 

“It’s incredible that the state troopers removed Jack last week from the frigid conditions and now this week the Sheriff’s Office and the town concocted the story that Jack was only removed because of social media pressure. First, there’s no law that gives anyone authority to take a dog because of social media pressure, so that story is a farce; but there is a law, section 353 of the Department of Agriculture, that makes it criminal to keep a dog chained in frigid weather without proper care, and that’s why Jack was removed. This town needs to be accountable to the law and stop making excuses for bad actors, and we are pursuing that with the Attorney General,” Lask said.

The Evening Tribune is seeking further clarity on the law from the Attorney General’s Office.