Thursday, May 8, 2008

Homeland Security--Not!

What first caught my attention? I don't remember now.

All I remember is suddenly being aware that two large brown & black dogs were lunging towards the fence between my neighbor's yard and the pen where the dairy sheep were grazing. The sheep ran in utter terror, searching frantically for an opening in the fence that kept them penned near the dreadful dogs.

I ran, too, to try to get to the gate of their pen to let them into a safer area. While I ran, I managed to find my neighbor's phone number on my cell phone and dial it. She and her daughter responded within minutes. Housemate A. come running from the house...she must have seen them through her bedroom window. I called Animal Control (programmed into my cell phone just for occasions like this), which gets you 911 Dispatch. They said they'd send someone, even though the dogs weren't quite in the city, just in case they ended up there.

I threw open the gate and ran towards the dogs. Some of the sheep went through, some ran to the north end of the pen. I ran to chase them back to the relative safety of the back yard. The dogs ran through my neighbor's garden, lunging at the fence again and again. They ran towards the neighbor's house for a moment before the neighbors came out, and the ewe lambs and older bottle lambs in the south backyard pen tried to throw themselves through the back yard fence. One leaped so high at the fence that if it had not had an extra 18" of welded wire on the top of the 4' woven wire, she would have gone over the fence. If the fence had not been 2" x 4" horse mesh, they might have put legs or heads through the fence in ways that could have broken bones.

I ran at the dogs on the other side of the fence, yelling at them, trying to drive them towards the city limits. Once there, Animal Control could pick them up. Until then, they had the amnesty of Douglas County regulations. They lunged at me through the fence, snarling. Scary dogs. Probably 75 lbs. each, maybe more--they were the size of German Shepherds, and looked like Shepherd crosses (dark tips on the guard hairs, dark muzzles) but they were heavier set and more jowly. Maybe some Rottweiler or pit bull influence. They seemed like young dogs, litter mates most likely. Powerful dogs.

When they saw my neighbor coming, they loped off towards the north end of the neighbor's field and disappeared through the barbed wire fence into a plowed field. By the time I got to the corner of the fields, they had gone from view, probably into the woods on the other side of the plowed field.

The sheep in the yard were terribly anxious. Their lambs were with the flock out in the pasture, which the guardian llama had driven up into the sheep pen by the garden. The dairy ewes tore around trying to get into the safety of the barn, lunging here and there, trying to get into the garden lane. It was almost impossible to get into the garden without all 6 ewes following me.

Gradually things calmed down a bit. I called Dispatch back to let them know the dogs were gone from sight. I went back to gardening.

A little while later, I looked north on the main lane to the garden. There were the same two dogs again--this time between the two green sheep sheds, closer to me than to the flock on the pasture! I headed towards them, and watched helplessly as they ran down the lane towards the pastured ewes and lambs. Fortunately, they decided they didn't like me watching them, and headed off to the east instead of going further north to where 28 lambs and 9 ewes were huddled in terror near their llama. As I watched, one dog did a standing leap over the 4' fence. The other slipped through a small gap. They trotted east to the perimeter fence, and sailed over it. Then they ambled across the plowed field again and went into the woods.

What are my options? Chances are that the dogs will return. Their propensity for jumping means that confining the sheep really only reduces the amount of effort the dogs would need to slaughter them. I called Animal Control again. This time they sent out a sherrif officer to talk to me.

Basically, my best option is to hope that they don't come back. Basically, I have no recourse. I, personally (not a friend) could legally shoot the dogs IF I catch them in the act of injuring my livestock and then I'd still be opening myself up to a lawsuit. The "commonlaw" on this is "SSS"--Shoot, Shovel and SHHHH. Unfortunately, I don't have a gun. That, however, is easier to solve than the fact that even in the prime of my visual acuity I decidedly lacked the knack of aiming a gun at a target. It's best for everyone that I not have a gun.

If I could figure out whose they were, the sherrif could go talk to the owner. That's all. Talk. If I can catch them ("Did you try calling them? Try to get them to some to you and put a leash on them," suggested the helpful officer. Yeah, and get myself killed? I've been attacked by one dog half their bulk, and nearly lost the battle.) then the Humane Society can come pick them up.

Later, when E. came to do evening chores, we went out to the pasture to work on some fence. I have to say I was a little anxious about going out there, even with E. along. Two cunning, agile, vigorous dogs could be a formidable team to fight.

We did see them, ranging along the north side of the plowed field.

Later I went to talk to neighbors on the road east of here. One neighbor said someone had come by looking for them, but he didn't know the person, and didn't get any contact information. One said he'd seen the dogs fairly frequently along his fence ( the other side of the plowed field). So, at least they weren't feral dogs or dogs that had been dumped, as happens so often in the country. Someone wanted them back. That's a good thing.

So now what?

Really, all I can do is pray that the owner of the dogs will keep her little darlings more confined. Someone suggested I carry mace or pepper spray when working in the pasture...oh, good, one more thing to carry. But I probably will.

When I went to do the milking tonight, I found the cattle panel pen next to the barn leaning at a 45 degree angle. What the .....? Obviously, the dairly ewes at some point had thrown themselves at it trying to get to the safety of the barn. That would be about 1000 lbs. at a fairly high rate of speed--a lot of force. The base of one post was clearly rotten already...but still, it had felt strong to lean on.

So, I have to go buy a new post, dig out the old one, set the new one and rebuild the fence line. After spending several hours dealing with the dogs this afternoon. And live with the concern that they might attack again at any time. If they do, then basically all I can do is bury dead sheep (more time) and vet the living (more time and $$$).

If I could have a guardian dog, I wouldn't need to worry so much. But guardian dogs aren't generally well suited to such a small farm. They like a large territory...and will go over fences to patrol it. Then they would be vulnerable to traffic and Animal Control...and I would be vulnerable to a lawsuit.

When we begin as a community to get serious about Food Security, one thing we need to do is to address legal injustices in situations like this. We need to re-write laws to protect the livestock and their owners, not the pets/pet owners. Leash laws need to apply in the county as well as the city. And law enforcement needs to stop quibbling about whose jurisdiction a dog is in, and be able to just shoot the dog if it's threatening livestock. Why should a dog have rights, but not the sheep?

And you were wondering why lamb meat is so expensive...THIS is how I spend my time, not relaxing in the shade with some lemonade.

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