Owning a dog is a big responsibility. You must ensure that your best friend is regularly fed, watered, and gets plenty of exercise. In addition, you are responsible for ensuring that your dog is a good neighbor when it goes outside.
In most cases, that means you are responsible for making sure that your dog doesn’t injure any people or damage any property. In some areas, especially rural areas, this responsibility may also add to making sure your dog doesn’t bother your neighbors’ sheep, cows, horses, or other livestock.
When a dog attacks livestock, the owner may sue the dog’s owner for damages – that is, for the value of the dead animals and any other financial losses resulting from the attack.
Some states impose significant penalties to encourage owners to control their animals. In California, for example, the law specifies that the owner of a dog attacking livestock will have to pay twice as much as the owner’s actual financial losses.
What Counts as Livestock?
In most cases, “livestock” means commercially valuable animals. This includes cattle, sheep, poultry, horses, and pigs. Usually, pets or wild animals are not included in the meaning of livestock. Depending on the state you live in, state law may list specific kinds of animals that are protected.
Some states indicate that dogs may be killed if they chase or attack a “domestic animal.” Again, depending on your state, a “domestic animal” may or may not include pets.
Are there General Rules for When Dogs Kill Livestock?
The rules may vary depending on where you live, but two general rules are in common across the board:
- Owners of livestock may kill dogs that are harming or harassing their livestock. The owner’s action is justified because they are acting in defense of their property
- Dog owners may be financially liable for the livestock that their dogs harmed
What Is a “Predatory” Dog?
Predatory aggression is an instinct-based behavior in which a dog stalks or chases smaller animals, intending to kill and possibly consume them.
Predatory aggression is a scary yet very common canine issue. Predatory aggression is an instinctual desire some dogs feel to pursue prey. It is more common in some hunting and tracking breeds, such as terriers and hounds, but any dog can become predatory, meaning that they will attack what they believe to be prey – usually, a small animal that the dog perceives as food.
Predatory aggression occurs in many breeds, from tiny terriers to large, powerful working dogs. That said, an intense prey drive is more common in some breeds than others, including:
- Hounds, such as greyhounds, bloodhounds, and whippets
- Terriers, such as Cairn terriers, fox terriers and dachshunds
- Catch dogs, such as American pit bulls, labradors and retrievers
When Can You Kill a Dog?
Many states have laws that specifically allow farmers or ranchers to kill dogs harassing or attacking their livestock. If the dog is simply running through a field with cows or sheep, that is probably not enough to justify killing the dog. You don’t have the right to kill a dog simply for trespassing—it must be caught chasing or hurting your livestock. The idea is that you have a right to defend the livestock that are in danger.
Additionally, you cannot shoot a dog simply because it has harassed livestock in the past – former transgressions do not give rise to the right to kill the dog. The incident must be happening in the present time.
Some state laws allow a farmer or rancher to kill a dog before it has physically harmed any animals. Many laws specifically mention chasing or “worrying” livestock as behaviors that can justify killing a dog. In this context, “worrying” means that the dog is in some way pursuing or harassing the animal.
What if the Dog is Fleeing the Scene?
If the dog has already left the property or is in the process of leaving, the rules differ depending on which state you live in. Some states do not allow people to hunt down dogs that have left the property, even if the dog has harmed or attacked livestock before leaving. Other states allow farmers to follow and kill dogs for harming livestock, even if the livestock is no longer in immediate danger. In those cases, you must find the dog within a “reasonable time” of the dog threatening the livestock.
Can I Poison the Dog Attacking My Livestock?
As a general rule, it is illegal to poison animals on purpose, and doing so may constitute animal cruelty. However, some states may make exceptions for predatory animals if you follow certain rules and post warning signs about the poison. Also, be sure to attempt to contact the owner or your local animal control so they have an opportunity to stop the situation before you attempt more drastic measures.
Before using poison to protect your livestock from predatory animals, you should always check your state law (preferably with an attorney). Knowing your state’s rules regarding how and when you may use poison to eradicate a problem is important. If you make a mistake and your state’s rules do not support the circumstances, you may be liable to the dog owner for any injuries to the dog. If you are unsure what your state’s rules are, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer for clarification.
What are State Reimbursement Programs for Livestock?
Whether the dog in question gets away or gets killed, the livestock owner may sue the dog’s owner for the damages it caused – e.g., dead or injured livestock and other losses that may have occurred. An experienced attorney can help you evaluate the potential for recovery of your losses.
Sometimes, finding the person who owns the dog who killed your livestock is not easy. Sometimes, the livestock owner may not know about the incident until later.
Some states have created programs to help farmers recoup their losses when they lose livestock due to dogs. These programs require quick action to qualify for compensation – you must notify the state immediately after your livestock has been injured or killed. The state of Illinois, for example, has a 24-hour notice requirement in order to qualify for reimbursement.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Handle a Dog Attacking My Livestock?
If you have lost livestock or cattle due to the behavior of a dog, or if you own a dog that may have been attacking or harassing other domestic animals, it is in your best interests to contact a dog bite lawyer with experience in either animal law or personal injury law.
If you are facing possible criminal charges due to shooting a dog that was harassing your livestock, then a criminal defense attorney can help you analyze the situation and work towards the best possible outcome.