by WES FERGUSON
Should we kill dogs that kill livestock?
That question has divided Hays County’s ranchers and dog lovers while pitting the area’s agrarian past against its increasingly urban future.
County commissioners voted earlier this week to suspend a provision in the county’s animal control ordinance that requires the euthanization of dogs that kill calves, goats and other stock animals. The decision comes after two dogs were seized and destroyed for killing 12 chickens in Wimberley last week.
While letters and emails have streamed in from around the world decrying the county’s stringent ordinance, area ranchers worry that weakening the rules will put their livelihoods in peril.
“How many chances do y’all want to give those dogs if they kill a calf, chicken or goat?” Mike Rybarski, a Wimberley rancher, asked the county commissioners during court Tuesday. “Once these dogs start attacking, they don’t quit.”
“What caliber rifle do you carry?” County Judge Bert Cobb asked him, noting that many ranchers choose to shoot dogs and other predators on their property.
“Plenty good,” he replied.
Rybarski said he is taking civil action against pet owners whose dogs have killed $1,900 worth of livestock in the past three weeks. As evidence he brought 12 photos of dead or maimed goats to Commissioners Court.
“You see their ears chewed off,” Rybarski said as he flipped through the photos during a court recess. “This one’s still alive. She can’t breathe through her nose, but she’s still alive.”
As Hays County’s growing population pushes farther into the rural brush country, Cobb said he expects interactions between pets and livestock to increase.
“Things are changing,” Cobb said. “A lot of people who are moving out into our county have no experience with wild animals or even livestock. As the nature and the character of our county changes, we have to be flexible enough to meet the needs of both sides, the dog owner who is mainly urban and the rancher who is mainly rural.”
In the Wimberley case, a family’s pet dog was taken by the Hays County Sheriff’s Office and euthanized after escaping and being caught on a game camera killing a neighbor’s chickens. The dog’s owners said they paid for the dead fowl, but it didn’t matter under the county ordinance. A second, stray dog was also put down.
Cobb and Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley said the ordinance should be amended so pet owners are given due process before determining whether a dog must be destroyed. Hays County law provides more due process for dogs that attack humans, in addition to less severe penalties, than it does for dogs that attack livestock.
“I also have a problem with the government — in this case, animal control officers — having the ability to be judge, jury and executioner, coming to your home on your private property, and taking your property at their demand,” said Conley, who is leading the push to amend the animal control ordinance.
After discussing a proposed amendment for nearly two hours Tuesday, the commissioners said they would vote on a final draft at next Tuesday’s meeting. A new proposed ordinance, which should be posted on Hays County’s website later this week, will likely call for hearings in justice of the peace court to determine the fate of the dogs.
A first offense could result in a fine and restitution to the livestock owner and would also take steps to prevent any more attacks, while a second offense could result in the destruction of the dog or its permanent removal to a shelter. For the next week, any dog that is apprehended for killing livestock will be held at the owner’s expense in a San Marcos shelter. Cobb said no change to the ordinance should be allowed to hinder a ranch operator’s ability to defend his livestock from predators.
“Cattle ranchers and livestock producers have a right to protect their animals without any consequence,” he said. “The person who owns cattle on his own property can kill an animal without even a hunting license.”
WES FERGUSON is editor of the Hays Free Press where this story as originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print