On the loose and prohibited

Dog nuisance issues main topic of discussion at Traer City Council meeting

The Traer home located at 914 Second Street owned by Happy Friestad pictured on Wednesday, December 7. Two black dogs are visible in the front yard inside a fence. PHOTO BY TAMA GRUNDY PUBLISHING

The matter of loose and/or dangerous dogs allegedly unleashing havoc on the neighborhood in the far east end of Traer’s Second Street was the primary topic of discussion at the most recent city council meeting.

According to Holly Atkins and Mike Hemenway – 31-year residents of Traer at 917 Second Street – living in the vicinity of four dogs presently and collectively owned by the residents of 914 Second Street has reached a breaking point.

“I’d like to express the frustration and concern over the condition of the property and the lack of control of dogs at 914 Second Street,” Atkins began as she addressed Mayor Pete Holden and members of the city council on Dec. 5. “Over the years it once was a beautiful property and has turned into an eyesore … Regarding the dogs, no one likes to see a dog being neglected, allowed to run all over the neighborhood, left outside in all weather or otherwise not being cared for properly. It’s upsetting. We acknowledge that most dog owners have had dogs find their way out and get loose on occasion. The situation we’re talking about this evening is quite a bit different.”

Atkins then cited three “escapes” by the dogs over Thanksgiving weekend as well as an incident on Dec. 4 as being the most recent to take place.

According to online real estate and court records, Happy Friestad owns the home located at 914 Second Street and resides there with his wife Stephanie Friestad, and the Friestads’ girlfriend Brooke Hickman.

“Many of us in the neighborhood along with residents of Traer have had frightening encounters with not only the dogs but with the three pet owners as well,” Atkins continued. “Tama County Sheriff’s Department has been called numerous times to 914 Second Street in regard to loose, aggressive dogs as well as threats being made to citizens concerned about the welfare of these dogs. In fact, some neighbors most affected did not feel comfortable attending tonight’s meeting due to extreme comments and behavior demonstrated by the three adults.”

The dogs in question – according to Traer’s pet registration database – include a ‘mixed breed’ and Tibetan mastiff owned by Happy Friestad, and a ‘wolf mix’ and Anatolian shepherd owned by Hickman.

“Although we appreciate Tama Co [Sheriff’s] Department for their swift response and aid, it simply isn’t enough,” Atkins said. “We the neighborhood have been advised by the [Tama County] Sheriff’s Department to seek out [Traer] City Council for further assistance.”

Atkins then held up an envelope she said contained 10 signed statements from those she described as “neighbors and community members who have strong concerns” about the dogs at 914 Second Street.

“In summary, it is clear that the homeowner and residents of 914 Second Street are in clear violation of Traer City Code Chapter 50 regarding nuisance property and Chapter 55 that addresses animal welfare and control,” Atkins said in closing. “I stand here with neighbors and residents of Traer and respectfully ask for a prompt resolution on this serious, volatile issue.”

Court record

According to Tama County court records accessed online, in the month of November Hickman was charged in three separate incidents with At Large Prohibited, a simple misdemeanor.

The incidents took place on Nov. 2 in the 900 block of Second Street, Nov. 26 on IA-8, and Nov. 28 at 914 Second Street.

The Nov. 28 incident was described in the criminal complaint as “dogs were let out and they were running loose. These dogs ended up at the neighbor’s residence. Brooke [Hickman] admitted that her dogs were let out and were running loose for a period of time.”

Hickman plead not guilty to the Nov. 2 and Nov. 28 incidents and a non-jury trial is set for Jan. 24, 2023. She plead guilty to the Nov. 26 incident and was ordered to pay a fine of $105 plus court costs.

Happy Friestad was also recently charged with At Large Prohibited following an incident that took place on Sept. 18 along IA-8.

According to the criminal complaint, a Tama County Sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to 914 Second Street for a report of dogs at large. While the reporting party wished to remain anonymous, they provided photos of the dog running at large and were “willing to fill out written statements if needed.”

The deputy said he spoke to Happy Friestad over the phone during which Friestad “admitted to having one dog get out this morning.”

The criminal complaint further states: “This has been an ongoing issue over the last few weeks, with multiple complaints from citizens and the city.”

On Sept. 27 Happy Friestad plead guilty to the charge and was ordered to pay a fine of $105 plus court costs.

Sheriff, council discuss options

Following Atkins’ public comments, Mayor Holden moved ahead in the agenda to address the topic of dog nuisance. He began by asking Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera who was in attendance for his opinion on what could be done.

“One of the problems we’re having is,” Kucera replied, “a lot of the complaints that we hear about they want to be anonymous. We can’t act on anonymous … we need evidence to back it up.”

Kucera said every time his office receives a complaint that is “backed up,” a citation is filed.

“This last month we were at that residence six different calls. Five of [the calls] were related to dogs, the other one was related to a domestic [incident] … that resulted in an arrest. They have been cited.”

“One thing that we need the courts to do is enhance these citations to a higher penalty. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet. We’ll do what we can when we can if we have people willing to step up and back us up. We’ll back you up if you back us up.”

Kucera addressed Atkins directly at one point, telling her: “I don’t disagree with anything that you said, Holly, at all. … It’s just a matter of we’ve got to work together to see what we can do.”

Kucera further told the mayor and council the incidents keep happening “because of the fear of retaliation,” leading nearby residents to abstain from coming forward with complaints about the loose dogs.

Both Kucera and Traer city clerk Haley Blaine have sent letters with copies of the Iowa Code and Traer City Ordinance, respectively, to Happy Friestad, while Blaine said she has had many conversations with him as well regarding the dogs.

“The code is pretty clear,” Kucera said. “If an animal – in this case, a dog – comes on your property, is not welcome, and it acts in a vicious manner, the Iowa Code is very clear – that a person can destroy the dog. I would hate to see the community start doing that because a lot of times it’s not the dog’s fault. It’s the people that owned the dogs that aren’t controlling them.”

Traer’s animal and protection control ordinance – Chapter 55 – defines “at large” to mean “off the premises of the owner and not under the control of a competent person, restrained within a motor vehicle, or housed in a veterinary hospital or kennel.” The ordinance prohibits at large and states it is “unlawful for any owner to allow a dog or cat to run at large within the corporate limits of the City.”

The code also prohibits “damage or interference,” defining it as an owner allowing or permitting an animal “to pass upon the premises of another thereby causing damage to, or interference with, the premises.”

In addition, the code further prohibits “annoyance or disturbance,” making it unlawful for the owner of a dog “to cause serious annoyance or disturbance to any person by frequent and habitual howling, yelping, barking, or otherwise, or by running after or chasing persons, bicycles, automobiles or other vehicles.”

The question of court fines not being high enough to deter the at large charges from continuing to take place was brought up by council member Jon Panfil.

“Our ordinances are pretty clear,” Panfil said. “Normally the violation of an ordinance they can be fined like $750 for violating ordinances. That’s a whole separate process from [Tama County Sheriff’s Office] giving them a [criminal] citation.”

“I guarantee you the judges are not citing or fining them that much money,” Kucera said at one point.

“We’re not looking for the dogs to be destroyed,” Atkins said. “That’s not what we want. We just want resolution. Peaceful neighborhood again. It’d be sad if [the dogs] do get destroyed.”

But Atkins then admitted she might not have a choice in the future.

“If [the dogs] do come on our property this next time aggressive, they will be shot. They will. Because we’ve come close too many times now,” Atkins said with obvious regret in her voice, before adding,” We don’t want to be those people in our town. We don’t.”

It was decided by the mayor and council members that Blaine should begin working with the city’s attorney to formally pursue city ordinance violations against the dogs’ owners.

The process, however, is not an immediate fix, Blaine advised.

“It takes some time.”