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It’s 11 p.m. — Do you know where your dog is?

Shepherd Aden Stutzman, deputy dog warden John Goodland, dog warden Jonathan Beam with Major, the farm dog.

Colleen Callahan

As the snow melts leaving behind another Ohio winter, evidence of spring emerges. Farmers will soon be sliding open their weighty barn doors, and livestock will find their way out to the green pastures and crisp fresh air. Shepherds spend thousands of dollars building pasture fences to keep their sheep safe, but unfortunately, predators often find a way in and can wreak havoc. Sometimes that predator is a sweet, spirited family dog who ends up behind bars for a playtime that turned into a kill time.

The sight of a dog(s) chasing livestock is every farmer’s nightmare. Damage is rarely minimal and can include stressing pregnant ewes leading to miscarriages. Serious injuries are inevitable as sheep will panic in an attempt to escape an attack; the worst case scenario — death by mauling. Anytime a farmer loses a sheep, his livelihood is affected. And, if the four-legged offender is a neighbor’s dog, relationships can become strained.

Leroy Kuhns is an experienced shepherd in Fredericksburg. He has raised sheep for 30 years, and he, along with many other shepherds, will be turning his flock out to pasture in April. Ewes and lambs will highlight the countryside by the thousands. “Ohio is the top producing state east of the Mississippi for producing sheep,” he said. “Holmes County is ranked No. 2 in the state; however, Amish don’t participate in surveys, and I’m guessing that Holmes County is the top producing county in the state — by a long shot.”

Kuhns knows firsthand the devastating outcome of dog attacks on sheep. “I woke up one morning to find my flock scattered over five fields,” he said. “I discovered 15 ewes that were either dead or torn up.” Since then, Kuhns has implemented ElectroNet fencing that protects his flock from dogs and coyotes; however, he has concerns for those who are not permitted to install electric fencing due to their cultural restrictions. “I don’t promote that people tie up their dogs because I have a farm dog that would be worthless if he was tied up. The best prevention would be if responsible dog owners restricted their dogs to their property.”

Millersburg resident and shepherd Levi Kuhns knows when dogs are allowed to roam they will find other roamers, and the probability of attacks on livestock increase. “If a dog owner has two to three dogs that are allowed to run the neighborhood, that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Sheep kills are taken seriously by the Holmes County Dog Warden’s Department. Professional investigations are conducted on site, as the emotional and financial toll adds up quickly. According to Scott Goodland, deputy dog warden, public safety is their first concern. “In most cases when we arrive to a farm where there has been a livestock kill, the dogs are gone,” he said. “Occasionally we get lucky and find the dogs with the sheep, as was the case last week when we brought in two wagging-tailed, playful dogs that had just killed two lambs.”

The dog warden’s department works in accordance to the law. Those laws protect both the shepherd’s loss and the life of the offending dog. Though emotions can run high when a farmer catches a dog in the act of killing livestock, according to Goodland, it is against the law to shoot a trespassing dog that is no longer a threat. “We do not condone killing a dog. The only justifiable reason for doing so is if the dog attacks you, and/or the dog is still in the act of killing livestock,” he said. “If a dog has stopped and runs away, you are not legally entitled to pursue and kill the dog. We want you to call our office and let us come out and conduct a proper investigation — we are here to protect you.”

According to Jonathan Beam, dog warden, the owner of a dog that kills or causes injury to livestock will be required to pay restitution to the farmer. In addition, penalties and fines pertaining to a “dog at large” will also be assessed to the owner. “A single sheep kill can cost a dog owner up to and in excess of $600,” he said. “Charges can add up quickly including impound fees, running at large citations, fair market value of a sheep, veterinarian bills, fence repair and repeat offender fines. In addition, if your dog is not licensed, you will be required to pay a penalty and purchase a new license.”

When the dog warden is unable to locate a dog that caused injury or death to a farmer’s livestock, the dog warden’s department will make restitution to the farmer. Those funds come from collected dog license fees. “However, if the farmer owns an unlicensed dog, he will not be able to collect restitution from our department,” Goodland said. “It does pay to license your dogs.”

As the rural countryside becomes urbanized, farmers find themselves living in closer proximity to others. Leroy Kuhns wants to keep neighbors neighborly. “I’m speaking on behalf of other farmers in an attempt to create public awareness,” he said. “We are a dense population lacking the wide-open spaces we once had. My neighbors mean more to me than my sheep, the last thing I want to do is call the dog warden on a neighbor whose dog has just killed my sheep.”

Published: March 28, 2016
New Article ID: 2016703289989