Farmers say law cited in dog-shooting case should stay
HAMPSTEAD - Farmers will likely fight any efforts to change a state law allowing a person to kill a dog that causes "worry" for livestock and other domestic animals.
Rob Johnson, policy director for the New Hampshire Farm Bureau, said the law is one way for farmers to protect their animals, but he insisted that shooting a threatening dog should always be the last resort.
"It's something you don't want to do," said Johnson, who raises cattle and poultry on his farm in Pittsfield.
The legal debate over killing dogs began after a Hampstead man fatally shot his neighbor's dog on Jan. 5 when she came onto his property and began barking and startling his two rabbits in a cage.
Christopher Gibbons killed 6-year-old Sadie, a Brittany spaniel, with a single shot from his .223-caliber AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Police did not charge Gibbons after determining that he had the legal right to kill the dog under 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."
Sadie's owners, Fred and Judy Galietta, said they feel the killing was unjustified and are now asking lawmakers to consider removing the term "worrying" from the law even though similar attempts have failed.
"There are legitimate reasons for the term 'worrying' and I think it's important language to have in the law," Johnson said.
Johnson said a "high-strung" dog barking and running around a poultry or sheep pen can pose a serious threat to the animals.
"They'll crowd around and smother themselves. It doesn't take long. The animal doesn't have to be physically touching them," Johnson said. "Someone in commercial production has a lot to lose pretty quickly."
On the day of the shooting, Gibbons, a retired Manchester police officer, told police that he awoke to barking commotion in the backyard around 7:50 a.m. and when he went to his upstairs bathroom window he could see the dog "clawing" at the side of the rabbits' cage. The rabbits were frantic and running around, he said. Gibbons said he yelled at the dog, but that it continued barking and circling the cage, causing the rabbits to become frantic.
Gibbons, fearing the rabbits could have heart attacks, grabbed his rifle. He told police he fired a shot into a backstop for target shooting set up in the backyard to scare the dog off. The dog continued to bark, and when it jumped at the enclosed hutch area, he said he fired a second shot, a police report said. The shot killed Sadie instantly.
According to the police report, officers saw dog tracks around the cage but there were no holes in the cage or damage to the screen.
Gibbons said he immediately called police after the shooting.
When Sadie's owner, Judy Galietta, went outside to call for Sadie, she heard the dog yipping and then heard two shots. She later found Sadie behind the pen. She said that when she started to pick Sadie's head up she realized that the dog was dead.
Gibbons' wife, Kimberly, told police that they've had problems with the dog coming into their yard in the past, but police found no dog complaints on file with the police department.
The Galiettas, who have complained about Gibbons target shooting in the past, said their dog never bothered the neighbors and this was the first time that it ever went near the rabbits.