This was initially written as an article for the Madison County Crier but we ended up printing it as a letter to the editor. This is the ugly side of homesteading with chickens and other animals.
The title for this article says it all. I won’t be talking at about permaculture this week but, rather, the issue of keeping animals safe from other animals and what that sometimes means. In my 40 years on this planet I’ve tried to live a life of respect. For me that means being respectful of life in a general way. The taking of a life should never be done without good reason and absolute necessity. For example, while most people I know think nothing of squishing a spider in their home I’ll catch them and put them outside first. If they are no threat to me I see no reason to end their existence. Another example, I was a vegetarian from 1989 till 2003 and I’ve only eaten fish on a few occasions since 2003. Since living at my homestead I decided that I would begin eating a small amount of local meat, specifically fish from our lake and the occasional problem rooster from our flock of chickens. Last week I also ate a small serving of deer which my brother hunted last year from this land. I’m mentioning all this to make the point that I’ve thought about my diet a great deal and have tried to be respectful of other living things with which I share this planet. My decision to include small amounts of meat in my diet is based upon the understanding that in terms of climate change and energy consumption it makes more sense to eat local meat than it does to rely on vegetable sources of protein that are shipped in from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Now, about these dogs. On this little homestead I keep chickens, guineas, a goose, a cat and a dog. These are animals that I take care of on a daily basis and I take the responsibility seriously. I feed and water them and keep their housing clean, comfortable and safe from predators. In return they provide me with eggs, manure, and good company. I’ve dreaded the day that free ranging dogs would show up at our place and hoped that when the time came I’d be here to deal with it. Previous to my keeping the chickens we’d had dogs show up but I ran them off with lots of yelling and stick banging. They’d often be back the next day and I’d repeat the process but I was not too worried as my dog stays inside unless I’m out with her. Since getting the birds this past spring I’ve heard many dogs, sometimes nearby but luckily enough they stayed clear of our place. It was not until the past couple weeks that a couple of beagles started coming into the homestead. This week I returned from a morning in town to find the dogs in front of my cabin. The chickens were still in their securely fenced area and I rounded the two dogs up and took them to our gate almost a mile away. I waited a bit and when the dogs did not show I let the critters out. Of course it was not long after that they did show up and were chasing one of the animals. I jumped between them and caught the female and tied her up to a tree. I caught the male a couple minutes later and I tied him up as well.
I spent the following day trying to find someone to take the dogs. After phone calls to two shelters, a vet and a variety of friends and family I had found no one able to take them. Today I loaded the .22 and went out to shoot them. My stomach churned as I put the scope to my eye and the crosshairs on the head of the female. I pulled the trigger and it was finished. Moments later the male was also dead. Killing any animal is difficult for me. Killing a dog was gut wrenching.
What else could I do? I cannot possibly afford to take on another dog, certainly not two. My experience with free range dogs is that they come back over and over. Releasing these two would have likely been a trade for the life of one or more of my animals within a day or two. I fully expect that I will have to do this again. And again. And again. Is there an alternative? Please, if there is I’d like to know about it. I do not want to ever shoot another dog. Ever. That said I have a right and responsibility to defend the animals in my care. One suggestion I’ve received is to take them somewhere else and drop them off but how is that a solution? Then they’ve just become someone else’s problem.
What I cannot grasp is that so many people purposely let their dogs roam the countryside. Americans claim to value freedom but I fear that too many have forgotten that the other side of that coin is responsibility. I wonder if anyone can explain to me how anyone who keeps dogs but lets them run free day after day knowing that they are off to others’ properties is in any way behaving responsibly. My guess is that the people that do this simply don’t care what their dogs are doing. I cannot express how deeply I resent being put into a situation where I have to make this kind of decision and take this kind of action.
These two dogs will never go home and I wonder will they be missed? It disgusts me that I had to take life for no reason other than human stupidity. When we butchered three of our roosters I was okay with that because we needed to do it and I knew that they would be providing healthy meals to our family. There was purpose in it and the meat would be eaten. Whether by training or instinct, these two dogs were simply doing what many dogs do when allowed to run and are guilty of nothing other than being dogs. Quite frankly, people that intentionally let their dogs run loose should not only not be allowed to keep animals they should also be fined or be incarcerated. Letting dogs run loose not only puts them at risk at being run over but also leads to the loss of wildlife and livestock. To put it simply it is criminal behavior and it should not be tolerated.