String of dog attacks turns neighbor against neighbor

Woman alleges her llamas were killed

owner calls canines `fat, lazy, happy'

May 13, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Joyce P. White says her herd of about a dozen llamas was brutally and repeatedly attacked by a neighbor's dogs over the course of two years.

Robert M. Boston, White's neighbor in the small northeastern Baltimore County community of Fork, insists that his 160-pound English mastiff, Hercules, and 120-pound Rottweiler, Monstro, were "fat, lazy, happy, couch potatoes" who "wouldn't attack anything."

What began as a minor dispute between neighbors on Memorial Day weekend 2000, has become a saga including charges and countercharges, vicious attacks and the shooting of a dog.

White says Boston's dogs wandered onto her 40-acre farm five times and chased and bit her llamas. Three llamas died as a direct result of their injuries -- one of them, she said, was partly skinned. Three more llamas, she said, died in the weeks after the dog attacks because of ulcers caused by stress.

Boston, 38, says he doesn't know whose dogs attacked the llamas. Boston acknowledges his dogs were on White's property on one occasion, but says the attacking dogs weren't his.

The dispute is pending before two Baltimore County appeals boards, one of which is scheduled to rule next month on whether Boston's 7-year-old Rottweiler and another of his dogs should be termed "dangerous" for attacking White's llamas. Such a designation means that Boston could be forced to do a number of things, including having his dogs neutered or "humanely euthanized."

Veterinarians and llama farmers describe llamas as curious and aloof, intelligent and passive. Although they can kick or bite to defend themselves, llamas usually prefer to flee.

It has become more common for people to have large dogs as pets, but it is "highly unusual" in Baltimore County to have dogs attacking llamas, said Sewell Price, assistant supervisor of the county's division of animal control, who has been with the department for 25 years.

White, a former Domino's Pizza franchise owner, has raised llamas since 1987. At one time, she owned as many as 50, but now has two. She had never had a problem with dogs bothering her herd -- not until May 2000 when she saw a mastiff and a Rottweiler chasing and attacking her llamas in her pasture, she said.

White filed a complaint with police and telephoned Boston about the attack. "Most people out here, if their dog is doing damage [to someone's livestock] they take care of it," said White, 50. "I thought it was over."

Boston, however, denied the dogs were his. "There is absolutely 100 percent no way the dogs attacked anything," he said.

Four months later, on Labor Day weekend, the same dogs returned to chase and attack the llamas, White said. Again she called the police, the county animal control office and Boston.

Boston again said the dogs were not his.

White said she was told by police they couldn't help and advised her to buy a gun and shoot the dogs the next time they attacked her llamas. That is permissible under state law, provided the shooter sees the dog "in the act of pursuing, attacking, wounding or killing any poultry or livestock, or attacking human beings."

When White saw the same two dogs attacking her llamas for a third time Memorial Day weekend last year, she took her rifle and went outside. "After trying to chase the dogs away, I fired at the mastiff with a shotgun, killing him," White wrote in an animal control affidavit. "I fired a second shot at the Rottweiler, wounding him."

Boston, who is a small-business owner, said he always kept his dogs penned inside the 6-foot-high wrought-iron fence on his property. On this occasion, one of his son's friends must have left the gate unlatched and the dogs got out, he explained.

Still, Boston calls the attack on his dogs "malicious" and said he plans to file a lawsuit against White for killing the mastiff.

"She went out and purchased that gun to kill my dogs," he said. "They were running away."

White denies the dogs were fleeing and says she felt "horrible" about killing the mastiff.

"The dog was just being a dog," she said. "They probably are the sweetest dogs in the world, but dogs just love to chase things -- it's instinctive."

Boston was fined $275 by animal control for Monstro being both "menacing" and "at large." He appealed to the county's animal hearing board, a six-member appointed committee. The violations were upheld and Boston appealed to the county. His case will be heard by the Board of Appeals this month.

"I think the llamas attacked my dogs," Boston said. "They're not domestic animals, they're wild. They were raised to protect sheep from wild dogs."

Llamas can be trained to guard sheep against wild dogs and coyotes but are usually afraid of large dogs, said D. Phillip Sponenberg, a veterinarian and professor of pathology specializing in sheep and goat issues at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Va. "Large dogs are a threat to llamas," Sponenberg said. "Llamas are going to fail to protect themselves when [faced] with a big dog or more than one dog."

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