San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 26th, 2012
Dog-attack debate exposes rift between ranchers, urbanites

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.

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4 thoughts on “Dog-attack debate exposes rift between ranchers, urbanites

  1. There is a simple solution to all of this, keep your animal on your property. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the city, or out in the rural areas of the county. Your dog on your land, no problem. Your dog loose, it could get hit by a car, picked up by animal control, stolen, the list of bad things that can happen to a loose animal is endless.

  2. It sounds like we’re heading toward a reasonable resolution of this issue. Instead of one and done, give the animal a second chance….but make the owners responsible for damage caused by their dog each time. If the livestock owner happens to shoot the dog to protect his property, so be it.

    The best answer is, as Winchester said, for people to keep their dogs restricted to their property. We live “in the country” but in a neighborhood and for some reason people seem to not mind letting their dogs run loose. It can make for some fairly scary moments when you’re out walking with the family (stroller included) and get charged by a loose dog….

  3. I was talking with a friend of mine about this issue and she suggested something that would make everybody happy. The city should take the dog and donate it for medical research or veterinarian research.

  4. The responsibility falls on both the dog owners AND the people who own livestock, to protect their animals from a wide range of predators. I have spent thousands of dollars fencing my property to protect my dogs (and myself). People who free-range chickens or have any type of livestock should be required to fence their properties– if they can’t afford to fence, then they have no business owning livestock. Before fencing my place, I had been visited by other peoples’ livestock, such as their free range chickens, cows, and horses- which was very stressful to me and my dogs. This also puts their livestock in danger of being attacked by a roaming dog or other predator. If the chicken or livestock owner chooses not to invest in proper fencing or does not adequately secure their chickens in a predator-proof chicken coop, then they must take some responsibility for their neglect– one cannot put all the blame on the dog or the dog owner. I do believe in second chances for all involved.

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