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January 18. 2013 12:34AM

Shelter offers tips to help diffuse tension over dogs

HAMPSTEAD - As someone who spends her days saving dogs from homelessness and those at risk of being killed in a shelter, Melissa Hannon hopes there are lessons to be learned following the deadly shooting of a dog that wandered onto a Hampstead neighbor's property.

Hannon and her husband, Bo, are founders of Peace and Paws, a Hillsborough-based nonprofit, all-volunteer, foster-based rescue for abandoned dogs and others in high-kill shelters.

She said incidents like the one in Hampstead are more common than people realize in states where it's legal to kill a dog that comes onto private property, but added there are steps that could be taken to avoid problems.

"In this case, a sturdy fence between the two neighbors could have been a simple solution that would have avoided a lot of heartache on both sides," she said. "Know your neighbors and their pets. If you have pets, make sure you know if your neighbors are scared of or don't like them, and plan accordingly. And watch out for your neighbors' pets; if you see a neighbor's dog has gotten out of the house or yard, call your neighbor and help get the situation taken care of before someone else handles it irrationally."

Hannon's advice comes after Hampstead resident Christopher Gibbons shot and killed his neighbor's dog, Sadie, a 6-year-old Brittany spaniel, with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle on Jan. 5.

Gibbons claimed he killed the dog after she came onto his property and began barking and frightening his caged rabbits.

Sadie's owners, Fred and Judy Galietta, expressed outrage after the killing, saying there was no need to kill their dog and that the shooting was unjustified.

Police investigated the shooting but said Gibbons had a legal right to kill the dog under a state law that gives owners of livestock and other domestic animals authority to kill dogs that cause "worrying" for their animals.

While it's difficult to make a judgment when the facts surrounding the Hampstead dog shooting aren't clear, Hannon said the case seems extreme.

"There are varying accounts of what happened. The man who killed the dog says it was vicious and was trying to harm his animals; the dog's owner says the dog was harmless and was too small to have done any damage to the rabbits' enclosure. Based on current law, the homeowner was within his rights to kill the dog," she said.

But Hannon said there are other nonviolent ways that could have been used to deal with the situation.

"The homeowner could have picked up the phone and called the neighbor who owned the dog and asked her to come retrieve it. He could have called animal control to come pick up the dog. He could have distracted the dog with treats long enough to put a leash on it and walk it back over to the neighbor's home. The dog was not that large; any grown man could have approached it and either grabbed it by the collar or picked it up and taken it away from the cage," she said.

Hannon added, "Incidents like this show that we're paying a steep price for being more closed off to people who live in our neighborhoods. It used to be that if neighbors had a problem or dispute, they could discuss it and try to come to some kind of resolution. We're hearing more stories about neighbors who resort to violence instead of trying to talk to each other."

Hannon said education about dogs and typical dog behavior is also important.

"People need to learn the difference between an aggressive dog and one that is fearful or is just barking out of excitement. There are different body cues a dog will present, and if more people knew how to recognize these, they would learn that in many cases, they have nothing to fear," she said.

Dog owners also need to be vigilant about their own pets, Hannon said.

"Even the friendliest, most well-trained dog can sometimes get away from you, especially if there is something tempting like another animal within view. Even dog owners with fenced-in yards should keep a close eye on their pets. Dogs are very curious, and they are pack animals. If they are bored from being left outside alone for hours, or if something catches their attention in another yard, they will try to investigate it. That's the nature of a dog," she said.



jschreiber@newstote.com

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