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Avon community divided over mayor shooting dog

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 11:20 PM CDT
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AVON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A family in Avon is mourning the loss of their dog after they say the city’s mayor shot her.

It is an incident that has sparked controversy in the small South Dakota town. The family says they want justice.

It happened almost two weeks ago, when Ruby, a three-year-old pitbull, was shot and killed while Mathew and Ashley Counts took their kids to Riverboat Days in nearby Yankton.

While they were away, two of their dogs, Ruby and Maggie, got loose.

When the Counts returned home at around 9:00 p.m., Maggie was home but Ruby was nowhere to be found.

“I couldn’t find her, I looked everywhere, I went to neighbors, I went driving down alleys, [and] walked around,” Counts said.

Mathew says he texted Avon Mayor Mike Petrik and asked if he had seen his dog. He also contacted local authorities and posted to the community’s Facebook Page, ‘Avon FYI.’

“Nobody has seen Ruby,” Counts said.

Sunday, Mathew says the Bon Homme County Sheriff’s Office contacted him about Ruby.

“I don’t want to tell you this, I can’t leave or I’d come to tell you in person,” he said, “But your dog was shot and I’m not sure exactly what happened, he was shot by the mayor,” Counts said.

The Bon Homme Sheriff’s Office confirmed to Dakota News Now that Mayor Mike Petrik was involved in an incident with a dog but wouldn’t give further details because the investigation is ongoing.

Mathew says there is no reason the mayor should’ve taken this action.

“I texted the mayor and said, why would you shoot my dog?” Counts added.

Later, Mathew says Petrik came to his home to tell him what happened.

“And he said, ‘Well I was trying to get the dog in the fence and she was being kind of aggressive’, that’s all he said, and he just told me he shot her,” Counts said.

That conversation left him with more questions than answers.

“Why is the mayor in my yard, why didn’t he call the animal shelter if my dog is being aggressive? If he was told by other people that my dog was being aggressive, why would he be by himself trying to put the dog in the kennel?” Counts said.

But to get the full picture, you need to go back.

Matthew Tjeedsma, an Avon resident, says Mathew Counts’ property, and his dogs, have been brought up at multiple city council meetings over the last three months. Tjeedsma remembers one specific resident who voiced concerns that Counts’ dogs were not licensed in the city, and didn’t have the proper immunizations.

“It was an individual in the neighborhood, she had little kids running around, she was very, very concerned about it and wanted something done,” Tjeedsma said.

Documents Counts sent to Dakota News Now show Ruby was vaccinated on June 6, 2019; however, at the time of the incident, none of Counts’ dogs had been licensed in the City of Avon, which is a violation of city ordinance.

According to Tjeedsma, Counts’ dog Ruby was specifically described during an August meeting as “aggressive.”

“Everyone assumed it was because it was part pitbull or whatever it was, that’s not the case, we have a lot of people that walk around the City of Avon that wouldn’t walk by his place, or if they did felt threatened,” Tjeedsma said.

Counts strongly opposes that claim.

“I have a bunch of kids [at home] and they jump on Ruby, they play with Ruby, they love Ruby, not one sign of aggressive,” Counts said.

Should Ruby have been “declared as vicious or dangerous” by city leaders on the day she was loose, according to a city ordinance, the dog could have been “destroyed” by the Avon Police Department; however, no active officer was on duty Saturday, August 21st.

“So from what I heard, the mayor gets a call, ‘We got a dog running in this gals’ yard, there’s a gentleman out there and it’s not going good, it’s aggressive, we’re going to need to have you come over.’” Tjeedsma said. “If Mr. Counts is upset over his dog getting shot in his yard, I can’t say it did, I can’t say it didn’t get shot in his yard, but I will say it was not in his yard the whole time. This dog had been brought up before, the mayor goes over and handles it how he sees fit.”

That’s what Avon City Attorney Kent Lehr says happened because the Bon Homme County Sheriff’s Department was involved in another case. Lehr says the mayor took it upon himself to handle the situation because no law enforcement was available. Lehr says that’s not uncommon in small communities like Avon.

Since making the incident public, Counts feels his family is being targeted by some members of the community.

“This whole week I’ve pretty much been crying because of it, and it’s just upsetting cause I was really attached to Ruby,” Ashley Counts, Mathew’s wife, said.

Brenda Roth, also a resident of Avon, says that Avon FYI Facebook Page was littered with rude comments regarding the situation. She added that they have been deleted.

“I was just devastated at how horrible people were attacking this family, unfoundedly,” Roth said.

However, others in town say the situation is not black and white. Showing their support for the mayor on that same Facebook by commenting “#wesupportourmayor.”

“To say that the mayor, Mike Petrik, is going out and going after random people, and this and that, all he’s doing is being the mayor, he’s following the city ordinance that the city made,” Tjeedsma said. “Me, knowing Mike, it’s not fair to him or his family.”

The Roths live down the block from the Counts. They saw Ruby alongside Maggie on the day she was killed.

“They meandered down the street, and it was cute, they zig-zagged across the street, never going in anybody’s yard, but you could tell she just kept nudging the little Chihuahua (Maggie), and then we watched them, they came back to their house and went up on their step,” Brenda Roth, an Avon Resident said.

Brenda says it’s not right how the Counts have been treated.

“There is a sign outside of Avon...it says ‘Avon, small town, big heart,’ but that is not the kind of heart I am proud of for living here,” Roth said.

Counts has since been granted a temporary restraining order against Mike Petrik, which runs through September 20th. The couple is seeking to extend that order to keep the mayor away from their home for five years.

Lehr says the mayor is rattled over the incident, and did what was best for his safety, and the safety of the community.

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