I have this dog. She’s an American Kennel Club long-coat Akita. Well, you know the Akita’s reputation: mean, aggressive, dominant dogs. They were the original “pit” fighting dogs in Japan a couple of thousand years ago, and they can and will fight. They are an ancient breed, related to Huskies, Chows and other tough northern breeds and were trained to hunt bear. These are tough dogs. We socialized her with all kinds of people, animals and situations as a puppy, and she became a gentle, good-humored and friendly canine.
However, after five and a half years, she learned to jump my perimeter fence, innocently chasing after bunnies that ran through the chain link fence. She would gleefully dash after rabbits and have a grand old time running for miles around and around.
So, here’s the deal with “Stinkie” the Akita. Today, she is either in the house, in a large kennel or on a leash. That habit is what had to happen for her safety and for the peace of mind of my neighbors and others in the community.
Loose dogs can get into major trouble. They can damage another person’s property, kill or maim their pets or farm animals or start fights with other dogs.
California law allows a person to shoot and kill raiding dogs that are threatening livestock, pets and people. Riverside County has leash laws and mandatory license, spay, neuter and chip laws with some exceptions, even in unincorporated Riverside County. These laws are designed to keep dogs under control and ensure they are vaccinated against rabies, sterile and identifiable if they stray.
Dogs can and do get loose, however, and there have been a lot of posts on Facebook lately of vicious dog attacks on farm animals and pets. Here is what the state of California has to say on the subject in regards to liability of both dog owner and livestock owner.
Civil Code No. 3341 concerns the liability of owner, possessor, or harborer of animal killing or injuring other animals; scienter; right to kill animal found committing injury; accidental killing or injury.
The civil code said that “The owner, possessor, or harborer of any dog or other animal, that shall, on the premises of any person other than the owner, possessor or harborer of such dog or other animal, kill, worry or wound any bovine animal, swine, horse, mule, burro, sheep, angora goat or cashmere goat or poultry shall be liable to the owner of the same for the damages and costs of suit, to be recovered in any court of competent jurisdiction.”
First, “in the prosecution of actions under the provisions of this chapter, it shall not be necessary for the plaintiff to show that the owner, possessor or harborer of such dog or other animal had knowledge of the fact that such dog or other animal would kill, wound or worry bovine animals, swine, horses, mules, burros, sheep, goats or poultry.”
Second, “any person on finding any dog or dogs, or other animal not on the premises of the owner or possessor of such dog or dogs or other animal worrying, wounding or killing any bovine animals, swine, horses, mules, burros, sheep, angora or cashmere goats may, at the time of finding such dog or dogs or other animal kill the same, and the owner or owners thereof shall sustain no action for damages against any person so killing such dog or dogs or other animal.”
Lastly, “nothing in this section shall render an owner, possessor or harborer of a dog liable for the accidental or unavoidable killing or injury of any bovine animal, swine, horse, mule, burro, sheep, angora goat, cashmere goat or poultry which occurs in connection with or as an incident to the driving or herding the same from the premises of the owner, possessor or harborer of the dog, whether such killing or injury occurs upon such premises or off of such premises.”
In other words, if a dog kills, wounds or harasses livestock, the livestock owner can kill the dog, and the dog owner is responsible for the damages.
While most people dread the thought of harming any animal, livestock must be protected. Owners are ultimately responsible for any harm their pooches cause and must make amends financially. In California, for example, the owner of livestock injured or killed by a dog may sue the dog’s owner for twice the amount of the financial loss. Considering that some farm animals can be purebred and registered breeding stock, this amount could be in the thousands of dollars per injured or killed animal.
But replacing a precious pet goat or pig after a ferocious dog attack is not easy. There can be no value put on the sentimental feelings for a beloved companion. Many dog owners are unaware, or they simply do not care that their loose dog can cause such damage and heartache. But it happens frequently.
Alicia Tucksen Thomson lost a much-loved pet goat earlier this year to a stray pack of dogs.
“It is devastating when you put so much of yourself into providing a safe and healthy environment for your animals; especially when your animals are rescued from neglectful situations,” she said. “They become more than livestock, more than farm animals, they become pets and are loved like family. So, when you discover one or more of your herd have been ravaged by rogue dogs, it is heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and horrific. It is a traumatic event that sticks with you. The pain and suffering they endured rips at your heart.”
Her goat had to be put out of his pain and suffering due to wounds from which he could not recover.
“The sound of the gunshots that ended his suffering remains in the forefront of your mind,” she said. “The very real fear that accompanies you on every trip to the barn or pasture is paralyzing; not just because of the fear of finding evidence of another attack, but the fear that you could very well be the next victim.”
Dogs are predators and have an instinctive “prey drive” or impulse to hunt and kill. Why do dog toys squeak? It is to imitate the squeal of a dying rodent or rabbit to inspire the dog to “play.” Some breeds of dogs have higher drives than others; for instance, Rhodesian ridgebacks, Irish wolfhounds, airdales and bull terriers are all famous for wanting to chase little furry animals, and this instinct sometimes translates to larger farm animals like sheep, goats and even cattle.
“Their prey drive can get them in trouble,” professional dog trainer Cathy Jahelka said. “But a high-drive dog, specifically a high-prey-driven dog can and will get into trouble when faced with other loose animals, livestock or a small child that is squealing and running. Instinct kicks in, and prey must be chased and caught. What they do when they catch the prey differs with each dog. If there is more than one dog running together, it becomes a competition, and that is even more dangerous.”
And real danger comes if dogs are released or abandoned to become feral, hunting for food. These animals become wild and wary of human contact and must often be trapped and destroyed by county Animal Services.
“Loose dogs are a bad thing for any town,” animal rescuer Danna Hannibal said. “They can group together and take on a pack mentality. Some become isolated, skittish and a danger to not only neighborhood children and pets, but motorists as they run the risk of an accident avoiding a collision with the loose dog. Feral dogs eat many things, like road kill and decomposing trash, and then become infested with internal parasites.”
“Once a pack of dogs have gone rogue and they develop that pack mentality, every element of danger exists for the farm owners and their livestock,” Thompson said. “Sadly, rogue dogs have been failed by their owners, and once they attack, their elimination is the only way to ensure the safety of a rural community. It’s been a year since the mauling here on our farm, but the trauma is still evident and fresh in my mind.”
With so many animal lovers professing to care about the welfare of all furry and feathered creatures, it is important that they also advocate the proper housing, training and care of our canine friends.
“Stinkie” will stay out of trouble and safe, yet she is happy because she is cherished and knows it. Responsible dog ownership is safe dog ownership for both the dog and others in the community.