If you keep up with me on facebook you’ve probably been following along as this drama has unfolded. For those who haven’t heard the story yet, it goes something like this…
Last Thursday, I was in the house when I just happened to catch a glimpse of a dog running past my back window. Realizing my chickens were loose, I shrieked, threw my shoes on, and ran out the door shouting at the dog. “Shoo! Get out of here!” It was a large yellow lab. As it ran from me, another dog, a black lab, came running to meet it from around the other side of the house. In the same instant that I noticed the other dog, I also noticed something that caused me to begin screaming at the top of my lungs.
Feathers. Chickens. Dead. All over my yard.
I snapped out of it when the dogs took off running into the woods, barking, obviously chasing another one of my hens.
I ran back into my house as quickly as I could, and grabbed my gun. Fueled by fury, I flew back out the door and chased those dogs through the woods. Over fallen trees, under branches, through the thick pines. I could hear them barking ahead of me, but I quickly lost sight of them. Panting, out of breath, my throat stinging from the bitter cold air, I slowed to a stop and listened for any clues to their direction. But there was only silence in the woods now. They were gone.
I made my way back to my yard, and began the body count. Following trails of feathers, I was able to find seven of my hens scattered throughout the yard, garden, and in the woods. It seemed like they were everywhere. How long had these dogs been running around, terrorizing and torturing my flock? Over the steady humming of my washing machine, and the constant racket of children playing and dishes clanging, I hadn’t heard a thing.
I was still missing 23 more chickens. 3 roosters, the rest hens. I walked all around the house, and through the trees, calling my girls. “Here chick-chick-chick. HERE CHICK-CHICK-CHICK!” Had they killed every single one? Were they all laying somewhere in the thickets, amongst the fallen leaves? After about 10 min. of calling, miraculously a black hen came walking into the yard from out of the woods. She was scared, visibly traumatized. I was able to coax her to me, and picked her up to return her to the safety of her run. Well, at least ONE survived!
I kept walking through the trees, searching for more chickens, dead or alive. My eyes narrowed as I spotted something colorful underneath a thick entanglement of the branches of a fallen tree. As I worked my way toward it, I recognized it to be our rooster, Rico. “Rico? Are you okay?” Are you dead? He was hunched down as low as he could get, motionless. I could see his eyes were open, but he didn’t flinch. I still questioned whether he was alive, or if he had died in terror with his eyes frozen wide. I ducked under low hanging limbs, pulled free from briars, and squeezed between tight baby pines. As I reached him, I spoke softly, hoping to encourage signs of life. But he was scared stiff. He did shift his weight, ever so slightly, allowing me a sigh of relief. I shouted to my nine year old, Jada, who was in the yard helping me hunt for hens, “I found Rico! He’s alive, but I think he’s hurt.”
I reached through his shelter to see if I could lift him out, but just as my fingertips were about to stroke his soft back, he startled, stood up, and ran away. He wasn’t hurt at all, just terrified. I was so glad he was okay. As I was trying to herd him back toward the coop to safety, another little black hen came walking up to me through the woods. I picked her up, and she nestled into the security of my arms. Making my way back to the front yard, I handed the hen over the fence to Jada so she could put her into the run with the other hen. Rico was too skittish for me to catch him.
By this time, all of the kiddos were outside helping in the hunt. All except for baby Elias, who had been contentedly sleeping through the whole ordeal. We walked all over the property calling our flock. Slowly, over the next few hours, the chickens came out of hiding and made their way back to the coop. With each one spotted we breathed a little easier. Before they went up to roost for the night, we counted how many remained. 20 alive. 7 dead. 3 missing. It was safe to assume the three missing birds laid dead in the woods, yet to be discovered.
I called Animal Control so that I would have a record of the incident on file. I didn’t know who owned those dogs, but they both had collars on and I wanted to have proof of what had happened in the event that I did find out where they came from. I described the dogs very specifically to the deputy there, down to the color of one of their collars. I also took photos of the massacre scene for evidence.
When Jerry came home, I told him what had happened. Furious, he jumped back in his truck and drove around our area, hoping to spot the dogs. But he returned unsuccessful.
The next day, however, on his way home from running an errand, my husband just happened to spot two dogs in a kennel next to a house up the road that matched my description. Two labs, one yellow, one black, red collar. We all drove back up there and I confirmed that those were in fact the dogs I’d seen. I knocked on the door, hoping to catch the homeowners there, but nobody answered. We went back again later that evening, but still no luck.
The next morning, Saturday, we went to the house for a third time. Two cars were in the driveway, but still nobody came to the door. I memorized their house number, and went back home to look up their phone number. Once we knew who they were, and had their phone number, I boldly called and left a message telling them who I was and that their dogs had been on our property and had killed several of our laying hens. I was nice about it, and asked that they return my call so that we could discuss the matter.
Later that evening, I did get a return call from the man of the house. I told him that I hated to meet neighbors this way, and that I wished we could meet in person to discuss what had happened. He told me that he was actually out of state at the moment, so I went ahead and described to him the events of that day. When I was finished with my story, his response was, “Well, it couldn’t have been our dogs. They stay in their kennel all day unless we let them out, and then they aren’t ever let out of our sight.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I had hoped they would be apologetic and offer some sort of restitution, or at least their sympathy. But he was outright denying it was his dogs. “Well,” I continued, “I can’t prove that it was your dogs. But unless there is another pair of labs that look exactly like yours running around here, I don’t know how they couldn’t have been your dogs.” I would have sworn in court that it was his dogs. But a part of me wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. He said, “My wife did let our dogs out on Thursday, but they stayed with her the whole time.” So, I said the only thing I could. “I understand. Just so you know, the Animal Control officer who I filed a report with confirmed to me that I was well within my legal rights to protect my property and livestock by any means necessary. If I see those dogs on my property again…I’d hate to do it… but I will shoot them to protect my hens.”
“Ma’am, I’d hate for you to…” and then he paused.
“Are you Joe’s daughter?”
Oh great. He knows my dad.
“Yes I am.” I couldn’t lie.
“You the one who lives up there beside him?”
“Yes, I do.” Great. Now he knows where I live.
“Well, it couldn’t have been my dogs. Not unless they got out, and got back in on their own.” That was his story, and he was sticking to it.
And with that I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
I told him, again, that I hated to meet neighbors this way. And that I was sorry we couldn’t shake hands over the whole thing. These are neighbors, after all, and I’d hate to have bad blood between neighbors. But at least now he knows that if his dogs come up here, if I can’t catch them first, I’ll shoot them. If they were his dogs, he’ll be much more careful not to let them wander my way.
(Turns out, the man is a local officer. That’s how he knows my dad, who is also a part time officer. I thought he might have been, when I saw the red and blue lights he had mounted on the swing set in his front yard. At least he knows the law, and my rights to protect my home. I thought it was humorous that as soon as I threatened to shoot his dogs he associated me with my dad, though.)
What stinks is not only did I lose 10 of my laying hens, valued at $10-$12 a piece, I also cannot let my flock out to free-range now for a while, which means it’ll cost me even more to feed them. Most people just don’t realize, nor appreciate all that it takes to raise your own livestock for food. Maybe if they did, they’d be more careful about letting their dogs roam onto other people’s property. I also found out a couple of days ago, that another neighbor up the road found five of her hens killed in their yard. She never saw what killed them, but I’m betting it was the same two dogs.
I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a pair of labs. Perhaps there is another identical duo running around. Part of me hopes there is, so that I can apologize to my neighbor and hopefully get off to a better start.
I understand that dogs will be dogs. But people, if you let your dogs run loose, and they end up causing damage to somebody else’s property, be a man (or woman) and do the right thing. Replace what was lost, and restore a right relationship between yourselves. You never know when you might need each other’s help.
One lesson I took away from this incident: Next time I see dogs on my property, I’ll try to catch them first before shooing them away. And if there are no dead chickens, they’ll go freely.