Fatal shooting of dog raises emotional, legal issues

Rottweiler attacked rabbits, farmer says

February 24, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Sabre, a female Rottweiler, was attacking a child's rabbit hutch when a Carroll County farmer shot and killed the dog, said authorities who had been trying to humanely trap the animal for about a month after receiving two complaints about her.

"Within the past month, we had a rooster killed and four or five rabbits killed that belonged to little kids, and the description had come back that it was a Rottweiler wearing a purple collar, seen in the area running loose," said Carolyn N. "Nicky" Ratliff, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County Inc.

"The dog was back a few days later, trying to get into the rabbit hutch again. [The farmer] shot it and called us immediately," said Ratliff, who did not disclose the name of the man who shot the dog.

A 1953 Maryland law bears the heading, "Dogs attacking livestock may be killed," she said. It states that a person may kill any dog that is "in the act of pursuing, attacking, wounding or killing any poultry or livestock, or attacking human beings, whether or not such a dog bears the proper license tag. ... There shall be no liability on such persons in damages or otherwise for such killings."

That doesn't make the owners of Sabre, who was wearing a purple collar when she was killed, and another Rottweiler shot and killed in northeastern Carroll County on the night of Feb. 15 feel better about the deaths of their pets.

And it doesn't mean open season on dogs, said Ratliff. "I don't want people to think they can just start shooting dogs," she said.

But Sabre was attacking livestock, Ratliff said.

Sabre died en route to a veterinary hospital, Ratliff said. She was unlicensed, but eventually was identified by her owners, Bill and Marie Murphy of the 3900 block of Schalk Road No. 1, in Carroll's northeastern corner.

Sabre had puppies 10 days before she was killed, said the Murphys, who reported her missing Feb. 16. James Murphy, 21, the Murphys' son, said the puppies were taking well to being bottle-fed.

"I empathize with him completely - the dog had just had puppies," said Ratliff. But, she said, "we've also got little crying kids because of the rabbits."

Bill Murphy said Sabre was "gentle to a fault" and that he'd had no complaints in the two years he owned her. He thinks another dog might have killed the farm animals because he had seen a dog similar to a Rottweiler about a quarter-mile from his home.

"Unfortunately, they are sending a signal that it's OK to shoot a dog that's on your property," he said. "Hopefully, her death wasn't in vain."

"I think the law is wrong. I'm going to work to change it," said Murphy, who called his Rottweiler Schatzie and said she seemed to like it when he spoke German to her. "I don't want other people to go through what we have gone through."

"The most important thing is the violence directed at my dog. The farmer law is just ridiculous," he said, noting that authorities would not tell him the name of the man who killed Sabre. "It's the owner's word against mine. The only thing I have is a dead dog."

The death of another Rottweiler, 3-year-old Samson, who was killed the same day Sabre was shot, remains a mystery to police and to his owner, Adrienne Whitney, who lives in Baltimore County near Hampstead.

Samson, a 120-pound male, limped home with six bullet wounds, apparently from a 9 mm handgun fired at close range, Whitney said, relating information given to her by police and the staff at the emergency veterinary hospital where Samson died.

"I don't know very much about guns," Whitney said, "but they said the way the bullets went into my dog, he couldn't have been attacking."

Whitney said she has been receiving condolences from friends who have expressed "a lot of disbelief about what happened" because Samson "wasn't the kind of dog who would be out causing trouble. My father has chickens and [Samson has] never chased them."

When a dog is shot, Ratliff said, "We investigate these things. We don't take them at face value."

Anyone who shoots a dog must immediately notify animal control or the police, she said, and police and humane society officers will investigate the scene for evidence such as patterns of blood splatters and bullet trajectories to verify that a shooting was legal.

In Sabre's case, the dog was lying by the rabbit hutch with no indication it had been moved.

"I should say: You cannot shoot a dog with the intention to wound it," Ratliff said. "In my opinion, it should be doing something so extraordinary that you need to kill it."

"So you can't just run around shooting dogs. If you're having problems with a neighborhood dog, you should be calling animal control," she said.

Animal control officials receive a couple of calls a year from people inquiring about the law on shooting dogs, Ratliff said.

"We have charged people with cruelty where they have shot dogs and the circumstances don't warrant it," Ratliff said. "If you are outside and yelled, and the dog was running away ... if we can prove it was not attacking or provoking, then the person who did the shooting could be in trouble."

In addition to animal cruelty, the charges could include destruction of property or improperly discharging a firearm, Ratliff said, adding that such shootings are rare.

The same is true in Baltimore County, said Cpl. Vickie Warehime, a police spokeswoman.

"Calls for nuisance animals being shot are very rare. It's more often about an animal bite or nuisance - complaints about dogs running loose."

"My heart goes out to that family," Ratliff said of the Murphys. "But if they had restrained their dog, the rabbits would still be alive, the old rooster would still be alive and the puppies would still have their mother."

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