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.
Chickens, Deer, Ecology, Homesteading, Living Simply, Self Reliance
I sympathize, man. It's terrible to have to do something like that, but those dogs were a danger to other animals. It would be nice if people thought more about the consequences of their actions (or their neglect), but sadly, our society actively discourages it.
hi this is yeimaya…. did the dogs have a collar and tags (I'm not sure if you mentioned that)? Also are there "animal control" officers of some sort in your township?
It is probably going to happen lots and maybe even coyotes or foxes? Have you thought of fencing or some sort of relatively "permanent" solution because I suspect this will be a problem for as long as you have animals that predators think are tasty. It seems the only solution is to make it impossible for them to get at them?
Yeah, their is an animal control via the police department. I'd been in touch with them but after a few phone calls was told by a deputy to shoot them. The shelter here was full. The next town north was also full and told me they could not help. Agreed that it will likely happen again. I hear dogs almost daily. Usually they don't come within sight but they have before this incident. I do have a good bit of fencing but could not possibly afford enough to allow free range. I tried to keep them enclosed in a fairly large area but they wear it out pretty quick. They also fly over. Foxes and coyotes not a problem yet because I only let them range free when I'm there which is most days. If I go to town (2 days a week) I leave them in the closed pen area till I'm back. At night they are in the coop and safe.
The problem with dogs is that they seem to make a habit of returning time and again to the same place… and they come during the day. Even when I'm on site I'm inside a bit and in the winter I'm inside quite alot. Unfortunately it only takes a minute or two for a dog to do it's business.
They did have collars and tags and I was in touch with them. Their response was not "oh we're sorry we'll come out and get them" which is what I'd expect. No, they said just hit them with a stick and tell them to go home. It is very frustrating and sad to see this. Part of the problem is that they let them run every single day… they encourage it! They have no intention of keeping them at home.
I have had to dispatch numerous predators, and it never gets easy. I believe the dog problem is going to get a lot worse as times get harder for people.
There is a sick feeling when you take the life of an animal that should be home in someone's yard, but instead it's searching for a meal in yours. Taking care of one's food supply is on the top of the priority list. Just a couple of generations ago the only concern would have been the cost of the bullets, with no thought of calling animal control or the animal's owners.
Irresponsible pet owners like you encountered are just temporary housing for feral animals. Most sadly, it's not the animal's fault. They are just being dogs. Too bad people are sometimes too ignorant to see that.
I love your blog. Sounds like you're doing the right thing. Keep up the good work.
According to this, you could be convicted of animal abuse, since you tied them up before shooting them. I'd advise removing this entry.
I got her via the Tiny House Blog, and thought your blog was interesting, until I got to this entry. Sadly, I'll never be back again.
How did you possibly write this off as ethical in your head? The dogs were not doing any HARM. You say "what else could I do?" As a dog rescuer, I can think of fifty things off the top of my head that would have been ethical, humane and dare I say RIGHT than shooting them at point blank range. How could you have the audacity, the coldness, to shoot someone's PET for nothing more than coming onto your property? I realize that the owners were slightly (understatement) blase about their animals, but their lack of concern was not a one way ticket to grab a shotgun and "deal with it" in killing terms. The death of those dogs did nothing. You destroyed life for absolutely no reason other than laziness and because you didn't want to deal with a problem. How do you consider that ethical? Really, what is disgusting is your appalling lack of conscience. Quick question–if a person had strayed onto your land, I doubt highly if you'd shot them.
Also, isn't it against the law to tie up pet animals and shoot them?
You resent being put into the situation? I'm fairly certain the dogs certainly resented theirs.
Honestly, this is the calmest, clearest language I could use. Your act was disgusting, cruel, abusive, and downright coldblooded. I have no idea why you have the ideallic life you have if the values your inner heart carries are so intensely dark.
Wow, what a horrible predicament. I have a friend who had problems with dogs on his place. One day he heard a terrible racket and saw the dogs attacking a Deer. He killed the dogs but was later sued by the owners. Even though he prevailed there was a lot of stress and expense involved. It greatly soured him on the area and he ended up selling his place.
Thank you for sharing your experiences in this very interesting blog!
There is a solution which has been used successfully for thousands of years all over the world – your own livestock guard dog(s). There are several breeds of dogs that have been bred specifically to watch and protect their family and livestock and chase off any intruders. Livestock guard dogs are typically not interested in leaving the farm, but they feel that it is their job to watch it.
You can have one big guard dog, or you can have at least two guard dogs: one "nervous", and one "serious". The nervous one will alert the serious one of any strange happenings, and the serious one will check it out and act according to the situation. The nervous one can be small, which cuts food costs, while the serious one should be big and strong.
There are also livestock guard llamas if you should prefer that. :o)
Of course, secure fencing around your entire property is the no-brainer solution to keep out intruders, but I guess it can be expensive and/or work-intensive if you have a very large property.
There are rescue groups all over the Internet that will take strays. However, if these dogs had collars and tags, the rescues probably wouldn't have taken them.Did you ever think about taking them back to their home? I would have tried anything to avoid killing them upon first sight. How did you know they would return? We've had dogs come here that I've only seen once.
I too live in a rural area where my nearest neighbors are miles away. We live on rocky terrain where it is impossible to completely fence in our yard and I worry about my 2 big dogs and my aunt's dogs (she lives a quarter mile from our property) every time they happen to wander off of our property. Dogs don't know property boundaries and mine do leave for a swim or to chase a squirrel. I certainly wouldn't, if contacted by someone, tell the person to hit them with a stick to make them go away. I would go and pick them up.
I don't know the answer, but your post certainly made me sick to my stomach.
It's a tough one for sure… I have a friend whose goats were killed by wild dogs (which I guess had belonged to someone once). Have you heard of chicken tractors?
My sister has one and you can wheel the chickens to new ground whenever they use up the old. I wonder if that would work?
Wow. I did not realize that my comment moderation was on and so just now, July 9 discovered all these posts! Really bugs me as I would have responded back in November!
To Sarah who I know will never see this… you don't know me. My guess is you live in the city and don't really have a clue about keeping livestock or about dogs roaming the countryside. I tried to make it clear that this is a regular occurrence. Lots of people in this area purposely turn their dogs loose because they see absolutely nothing wrong with it. They actually seem to ENCOURAGE their dogs to roam and to chase wildlife. As I said in the post, I contacted local shelters and the local vet, family, friends to find them a new home. I found no one.
As for it being against the law, I was told by a deputy to shoot them. If anyone is in trouble with the law it is him.
In the future I may try to get a livestock guard dog or two thanks for the suggestion! I don't really have the money at the moment to afford more animals or more fencing.
As for the suggestion to use a chicken tractor, I like the idea but it is just me out here most of the time and I don't really have the inclination to manage the chickens in a tractor set-up as it would probably require 2-3 tractors… a lot more time, energy and money to do it that way.
What much of this comes down to is a balance between MY time, energy and available resources being spent because others refuse to take responsibility for their dogs. If you have free range dogs that leave your property you should be prepared to lose them and if someone calls about your dogs you should apologize, pick them up and stop letting them run. Simple as that.
Thanks to all for the comments and sorry it took me sooooo long to respond.