By Sarah Olsen, VTDigger.org
PITTSFORD — A 20-year-old woman from Maine who is accused of stealing a dog from an animal shelter in Pittsford was arrested Thursday where the Rainbow Family group is gathering in the Green Mountain National Forest, police say.
Melanie Vangel, of Camden, is accused of taking a 1-year-old mixed terrier called Fred from the Rutland County Humane Society earlier in the day.
Executive Director Gretchen Goodman said the staff knew almost immediately that Fred was gone.
A group of people entered the humane society around midday and asked to use the bathroom, she said. The door to one of the kennels that is off-limits to the public is in the same hallway as the bathroom, Goodman said. The visitors went into that kennel, grabbed Fred and ran to their car before anyone could stop them, she said.
“One of the staff members kind of saw part of what went down and asked if anyone had checked on Fred,” Goodman said.
The Humane Society staff realized Fred had been taken, but by then the car had driven away, she said.
Sgt. Henry Alberico of the Vermont State Police said the employees at the Humane Society described the people who took Fred as unkempt and looking like they just got off the Appalachian Trail. Alberico said he knew that Rainbow Family members were starting to gather for their annual festival, which is taking place in Mount Tabor, near Danby.
The Rainbow Family of Living Light gathers in a different national forest each year. The group is an informal organization that says its only rule is one of “peaceful respect.”
Alberico said he issued a bulletin for law enforcement to watch for the suspects’ car, a Volkswagen with Maine plates. One state trooper who hadn’t yet heard about the car pulled it over for littering on Route 7 near Danby.
The trooper saw the dog but didn’t know it had been stolen, Alberico said. The driver and passengers told the trooper they were with the Rainbow Family, he said.
The trooper who pulled over the car later heard about the theft and realized it was the same vehicle. Authorities went to the campsite and found the car parked along the road nearby, Alberico said.
Vangel was found with Fred among the campsites and arrested, according to a news release. Alberico said Vangel told him she wanted a dog but had no money and knew she wouldn’t meet the requirements to adopt one.
Vangel has been cited to appear in Rutland County Superior Court on July 25 on a charge of petit larceny, according to the news release.
Fred was returned to the shelter unharmed but was a “tired puppy and very hungry,” Goodman said.
“That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen a dog run into its kennel,” she said.
The last time someone took a dog from the Rutland County Humane Society was nine years ago and happened at night, Goodman said.
That person also took two cats and some money from the cash register. All three animals were found as strays a few days later, she said, and since then the shelter has installed an alarm system.
“We are glad to have Fred back safe,” Goodman said.