Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
After reading the recent report of a dog shooting in West Tisbury I am troubled by our state law that allows the owner of a chicken the legal right to kill another individuals family pet for killing, or even worse, for “worrying” a chicken.
I have lived on the Vineyard for 28 years and have read numerous stories over the years regarding dogs killing chickens. If my memory serves me correctly, it was usually the same dog repeating the offense and an irresponsible dog owner allowing this to happen over and over. I can understand where a chicken owner could morally justify taking such drastic action if the pet owner fails to correct the situation. In my years on the Vineyard I can remember no other dog-killing over a chicken attack. I do remember an incident where the owner of a Chilmark sheep farm killed a dog living wild and worrying his sheep. The dog officer had attempted to catch the dog on numerous occasions but to no avail. Some of the female sheep were miscarrying because of the dog’s harassment and the owner of the sheep protected his livelihood by killing the dog. I believe in this case he was both morally and legally justified.
I have been a dog lover and owner for over 60 years and my dogs have always been part of the family and very special to me. When they reach the end of their life and have to be put down I am devastated by that loss, it is like losing a family member. I do not believe I would ever have that same sense of loss over a chicken. I would be angry and frustrated, yes, but not devastated.
My current dog is a beautiful golden retriever. There is no doubt in my mind that if he saw chicken(s) running loose, his instinct would kick in and he would think it was great sport to chase one and to try and catch it. If this beautiful animal was killed by the chicken owner for “worrying” or killing the chicken “legally,” I shudder to think what my response would be.
Yes, yes, I understand the burden is on the dog owner to control his animal, but mistakes happen and a dog gets loose or pulls from your grip. It is a harsh penalty for the dog to pay. If the dog owner is at fault for letting the dog get out of his control, should the law allow the chicken owner the legal right to shoot the owner? No, the punishment does not fit the crime. His epitaph would read: “Here lies Matt Gordon, shot in the head for allowing his dog to be out of his control and kill a chicken.” Paying damages, treble (allowed by law) or as Mr. Gordon (owner of the dog recently killed) said: “I would have paid a thousand times the cost of the chicken,” rather than have my pet killed. That was not an option he was afforded but certainly should have been before the owner of the chicken used his “legal” right to kill the dog. It is obvious that under existing state law the chicken has more legal rights than a dog. I believe this is a moral issue as well and hope that the killing of a dog by a chicken owner is never the first step taken going forward. You are not just killing a dog, you are killing the spirit of the dog’s owner, destroying that unconditional love that a dog gives to his owner. I believe you are also destroying a sense of community, being able to work problems out as neighbors. I may be completely wrong, as I have never been a chicken owner. I guess it is possible that a chicken owner places the same emotional value and sense of loss on a chicken that a dog owner does on his dog. Maybe he feels that unconditional love that a dog owner feels. I know the monetary value is drastically different, by thousands of dollars. You can buy a whole chicken ready for the oven for $8 in the market. I thought when a laying hen stopped laying, she got her head chopped off and ended up on the dinner table. It is from this perspective that I choose to write this letter; the punishment for a first-time offender does not fit the crime.
Allowing one’s chickens to run loose will only exacerbate the situation and provoke an attack. The legal killing of a dog ( first offense) over a chicken attack is insane. Even a hawk is federally protected and can’t be killed if it attacks a chicken. In no way can I accept the legality of such a law. It is time the law is reviewed and revised.
Richard E. Steves, Chilmark