Hampstead dog's shooting raises questions about law
HAMPSTEAD - The deadly shooting of a dog by a neighbor who claimed the animal frightened his rabbits may prompt lawmakers to take a closer look at the state law that justified the killing.
State Rep. John Sedensky, R-Hampstead, said he plans to call a meeting with local legislators to see what, if anything, should be done to RSA 466:28, a law allowing people to kill dogs for "worrying" livestock and other domestic animals.
"I'm going to look at it and we'll see if maybe we can make that a little more flexible," Sedensky said Thursday.
The call for action follows the shooting on Jan. 5 by West Road resident Christopher Gibbons, who was cleared of any wrongdoing by police after he used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to shoot and kill Fred and Judy Galietta's 6-year-old dog, Sadie, a Brittany spaniel.
Gibbons, a retired Manchester police officer, said he killed the dog because she wandered onto his property and frightened his two caged rabbits by barking at them and chasing around the outside of their cage.
While Sadie never got inside the cage, Gibbons told police that he was concerned for the rabbits because they are fragile and susceptible to heart attacks.
The Galiettas said they let Sadie outside to go to the bathroom and heard her "yipping" a short time later. Judy Galietta went outside to begin calling for her. That's when she heard two shots and then found Sadie dead by the rabbit cage in her neighbor's yard.
Police Lt. John Frazier said Gibbons called police immediately after he shot the dog on his property to report what had happened. Frazier said that initially Gibbons told police that he didn't know the dog.
However, the Galiettas insisted that Gibbons knew the dog well and that he used to see her running around in the Galiettas' yard in the summer. They also said they believe their dog was shot because they've complained about Gibbons' target shooting in the past.
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Police concluded that Gibbons had the legal right to kill the dog under a state law called RSA 466:28, which states: "Any person may kill a dog that suddenly assaults the person while such person is peaceably walking or riding without the enclosure of its owner or keeper; and any person may kill a dog that is found out of the enclosure or immediate care of its owner or keeper worrying, wounding, or killing sheep, lambs, fowl, or other domestic animals."
The Galiettas are calling on lawmakers to remove the word "worrying" from the law.
State Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, is a retired veterinarian who said the term "worrying" was included to protect livestock, especially sheep, in situations where they may be chased or run down by dogs. He said certain animals can be harmed in stressful situations, even when they're not physically attacked.
"There is a legitimate reason for that terminology. It's not the law that's wrong, it's people not behaving," he said.
State Veterinarian Steve Crawford said rabbits can be stressed fairly easily and that there are a number of factors that would affect how much harm could be done.
Rausch said he feels last weekend's incident could have been handled differently, especially if the shooter was aware that the dog belonged to his neighbor.
"The terminology was put in there to protect the animals, not to protect bad behavior or people not using good judgment or being a good neighbor," he said. "This situation just highlights that we have individuals who use no common sense. This should have been resolved in a manner of good neighborly relations. I'm sure that dog would have gone back home if it was scolded. There was no need to shoot it."
Still, Rausch said he doesn't feel it's necessary to change the law based on one incident.
Former state Rep. Leigh Webb, D-Franklin, said he feels attempts to change the law won't go very far. He introduced a bill in 2008 that attempted to remove "worrying" after a dog was shot by a neighbor in Hill. His proposal was met with opposition from the state's agricultural community and the law remained intact.
"I didn't want a law with interpretive language to be an excuse for killing a neighbor's pet. (The bill) hit a lot of resistance from farmers in New Hampshire who still have a strong presence here and were afraid if it were changed in any way, it would indeed have a detrimental effect on their livestock," Webb said.
Webb said it's a tough situation because "if you accommodate the pet owner you may be hurting the farmer."
Ultimately, Webb said, the responsibility lies with dog owners to follow leash laws and keep their animals on their own property.