Police say the owner of two black Labrador retrievers, on returning home from February break, was “shocked” to learn that the dogs had been left outside for five hours in freezing temperatures while on her dog-sitter’s watch.
Yet the owner is withholding the dog-sitter’s name and as a result, police are unable to pursue an animal cruelty charge in a case that has several unusual circumstances, according to Animal Control Officer Maryann Kleinschmitt.
“The dogs would have died,” Kleinschmitt said, if not for a vigilant neighbor phoning police after 2 a.m. last Monday Feb. 16 about barking dogs, and then a New Canaan Police officer arriving on scene and bringing the distressed animals to safety (more on that officer below).
Nobody came to report the missing dogs until 9 a.m. that Monday, a full 12 hours after they’d been let out at their family’s Oenoke Ridge Road home.
Police did release the dogs back to a man identifying himself as the dog-sitter, but it turns out he wasn’t technically the sitter—he was the boyfriend of the sitter, Kleinschmitt said.
What had happened the previous night was the sitter had started feeling so unwell that she needed to go to a hospital.
“The dog sitter thought that the boyfriend took in dogs and the boyfriend thought that she did,” Kleinschmitt said. “But because she wasn’t feeling well, they went back to her house” instead of to the dogs at Oenoke Ridge Road.
“They never came back that night,” Kleinschmitt said. “He came in the next morning. My concern was that these guys didn’t go back that night. They didn’t know the dogs were left outside. The dogs would have died, I am sorry.”
But they didn’t, thanks to veteran Police Officer Scott Humburg—a former NYPD officer who had retired from the force, joined the FDNY and the came to New Canaan, according to Police Chief Leon Krolikowski.
Before New Canaan had a dedicated Animal Control unit, police officers routinely handled animal calls and they continue to do so after hours.
“It does sound that Scott was very diligent in ensuring that the dogs were safe and he took all of the precautions necessary and I think it’s very clear that if he hadn’t brought them in, they would have died,” Krolikowski said. “It sounds from the back story that a lot of things went wrong with the people that should have been caring for the dogs, and thankfully someone called us and we were able to intervene and save the dogs. Tons of people have dogs and love animals and when an officer intervenes and saves a life whether it’s human or an animal it is a great thing.”
Reached by NewCanaanite.com, Humburg said he was glad the dogs were returned home safe.
“I was just doing my job,” Humburg said.
The dog-sitter was not working in that capacity full-time, Kleinschmitt said, but rather was helping out in a more general way at the house and had minded the family’s dogs successfully in the past. The owner told police she would “take care of it” with respect to the dog-sitter, meaning the girl likely would be fired, Kleinschmitt said. The owner sent heartfelt thank-you notes to both Humburg and Kleinschmitt, she said.
There is no law that allows police to withhold a vaccinated, licensed dog from an owner or dog-sitter responsible for the animal, officials say. Krolikowski said that the department prefers to return animals to owners, but that in this case, given all the circumstances, it was reasonable to return the dogs to the sitter’s boyfriend.
Kleinschmitt noted that he did come to the department’s headquarters in person to report the missing dogs, though that may simply be because he eventually retrieved pre-dawn voice messages left at the Oenoke Ridge Road home from Humburg.
Kleinschmitt said Animal Control went to the house every day after the incident to check on the dogs’ welfare. Eventually, the homeowner answered the door, and appeared genuinely shocked to hear how long her pets had been left outside and in what circumstances.
“Know who your dog sitter is and leave them a sheet of paper that says that they have the right to care for your dogs,” Kleinschmitt said, “so that when they come in here, they can show us that paper, because I want to see it. It’s a responsibility to be a dog-sitter or a dog walker. You don’t leave your dogs to some 15- or 16-year-old to come in and walk your dogs.”
She added: “People should know that they have to be diligent about making sure the dog-sitter knows where the dogs are before they close the door. Dogs need someone to stay overnight at the house. Things happen.”