- Eva Sollberger ©️ Seven Days
After operating for nearly 25 years, the Williston-based nonprofit Vermont English Bulldog Rescue may have to close its doors. The rescue, which rehabilitates dogs from shelters in San Antonio, Texas, was denied a conditional use permit by the Williston Development Review Board on November 22.
Its neighbors on Lamplite Lane, a quiet cul-de-sac, complained to the board about barking, parking problems and traffic. The board got nearly 70 written comments regarding the rescue's permit application.
Dawna Pederzani, who operates English Bulldog Rescue, said she felt blindsided by the claims.
“The hearing was incredibly difficult for me because I had no idea all of this was brewing," she said. "If anyone had come to me at any point and said, 'Hey, can we sit down and have a conversation with you?' I would’ve said, 'Absolutely. Let’s figure out what it is and fix it.'”
It was 1998 when Pederzani learned about conditions of puppy mills and the high rates of euthanasia in the South and decided to open the rescue. Since 2010, she's run it out of her Lamplite Lane home.
Pederzani transports dozens of dogs each month from high-kill shelters in Texas. At first, she only took bulldogs, but now she rescues all breeds. Most are matched with an adoptive family before arriving in Vermont.
Her adoption events, though, have grown in scale in the past five years. Since 2015, the nonprofit has increased its annual adoption numbers from about 250 to 450 animals.
Pederzani had not filed for an operational permit until this fall. She said Matt Boulanger, the town’s zoning administrator, had told her that she did not need to. Boulanger said he did not understand the scope of Pederzani’s operation when he gave her that advice. But after receiving complaints from residents, Boulanger issued a notice of zoning violation, which meant Pederzani had to apply for a permit.
“I think the prominence and the energy around this particular conflict," Boulanger said, "seems at least in part because a large amount of this conflict played out either by email or on social media.”
The growth of the nonprofit seemed to prompt many of its neighbors’ concerns.
“Our residential neighborhood is not an appropriate area to run a nonprofit dog rescue kennel due to traffic, noise, and safety concerns,” one resident wrote in a letter to the development review board.
The board heard from people who had adopted from Pederzani, too.
“We know from our own dog adoption experience that owners are carefully screened and the process at Vermont Bulldog Rescue is well organized," wrote Kim Butterfield, who lives nearby. "But we hear the dogs barking outside, nonstop, for well over an hour at a time, early morning and early evening, on a regular basis.”
Many of Pederzani’s clients and volunteers wrote in support of the operation. An out-of-state couple who had adopted from Pederzani pointed out that they had spent a significant amount of money locally — on hotels, restaurants and vets — when picking up their dog. Others praised the rescue's mission and the amount of care and diligence Pederzani put into running it.
Ultimately, though, the developmental review board denied the permit. Pederzani can appeal or submit a new application that addresses traffic and noise concerns.
Pederzani has already found a new space for her adoption events at the nearby Green Mountain Masonic Center. The first adoption day held there had no hiccups. But without a place to bring dogs that fail to be adopted, Pederzani said, she can’t continue to run the group.
That already has repercussions. According to Pederzani, the shelters she works with in Texas are concerned about what will happen to the dogs they would normally give to her.
She’s looked at a few other locations in Williston, but all are well above her price range. “The reason that we've been able to be so fiscally responsible and do what we do is because I don't charge for the rescue to be here,” Pederzani explained.
With few viable options, Pederzani is not sure what's next. She explained: “I don't know what to do other than explore every possible option and hope that there's a miracle out there.”