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Woman Says Town Of Acton Refused To Let Her Put Up “Lost Dog” Signs

By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV
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Jim Armstrong is an Emmy-award winning reporter who joined WBZ-TV in...
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ACTON (CBS) – Among the jumble of signs and sandwich boards along Route 27 in Acton, you won’t see one for Bridgett the missing Husky.

And that makes her owner frustrated.

“It makes me really angry and I don’t understand it,” says Pat Panek. “Frankly, I just can’t wrap my brain around it.”

Getting Bridgett back has been Panek’s mission since the six-year-old Siberian Husky bolted from her Littleton yard last November.

Panek maintains a Facebook page about Bridgett, and hands out detailed flyers, brochures, and business cards with information and photos about the dog.

And she’s getting results.

“It’s amazing,” she explains. “Once they’ve seen her picture or get some information, the calls come in.”

There have been close to 30 sightings so far, including one Friday morning. Panek has them all plotted on Google maps.

“This dog has been everywhere! But now she’s kind of near Pratt’s Brook Conservation land in Acton, so that’s really nice,” she says.

It would be nicer, Pat continues, if the town of Acton hadn’t forbidden her from putting up “Lost Dog” signage.

She claims that officials and residents have given her a hard time, threatening to take down her lost dog signs – and in some cases doing so – because they violate town by-laws.

We spoke at length with Mike Gowing, the Chairman of the Acton Board of Selectmen. He says the town has actually started the process of re-writing its by-laws that pertain to signage. As they stand now, the rules about signs are sometimes contradictory and often confusing.

“We try to balance good citizenship with enforcing the law,” he explains.

Acton officials want to help people like Pat Panek, but don’t want the town overrun with signs. Part of the selectmens’ job is to maintain the historic look and feel of the town.

And in this case, they wonder, how long should someone be allowed to keep up their posters?

Remember, Bridgett’s been gone almost four months.

That’s a little too long, at least as Chairman Gowing sees things. “That’s unreasonable at this point,” he says, “because considering at it was over the winter, this dog’s either been taken in by somebody, or it’s gone.”

“If you’ve lost your dog, how long is it that you should have the ability to put up signs that say, ‘Where’s my dog’? When do you call that?”

Panek understands that dilemma, but says she hand writes a note on the back of every one of Bridgett’s signs, explaining that she will take them down as soon as the dog is found.

“I promise to take them down as soon as she is located,” Panek says, “but please leave them up because this is a surefire, best way to get her home and get her home quickly.”

UPDATE: WBZ also spoke over the phone with the Director of Acton’s Planning Department, Roland Bartl. His department helps enforce the zoning rules that pertain to signage in town. He points out that at no time has anyone in his agency actually prevented Panek from putting up one of her lost dog signs – a contention that Panek herself confirms. In fact, Bartl told WBZ that Panek is, right now, allowed to put up her signs as long as she takes them down in a timely manner.

Selectman Gowing says those mixed signals — the sign can go up, but needs to come down — are just another reason why the by-laws here need to be re-written. No one wants to see a dog go missing, he explains, but the town also wants to avoid a situation where there could literally be dozens and dozens of ‘lost dog’ posters (some of which have been placed by non-residents) all over town.

Panek says that some Acton business owners have told her they are reluctant to put up her signs because they fear being fined by the town. She has also seen some of her signs “disappear”, but she admits that is likely happening because of individual residents who don’t like the signs, not because town officials are taking them down.

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