The Op/Ed section

Vilifying Farmers for Shooting Dogs and Cats Misguided, Ignorant

Farmers who shoot stray dogs and cats are often portrayed by well-meaning but uninformed animal lovers as heartless, profit-driven sociopaths whose main source of entertainment is the suffering of any living being other than themselves. It's easy to think that way when one lives in the suburbs and is blissfully ignorant of the very real dangers farmers face from dogs and cats that have been dumped or allowed to roam and breed freely by irresponsible owners, or feral dogs that have all the appearances of the family pet but have been born in the wild to strays. After all, what could a defenseless dog do to a grown man? A dog that looks just like the dog asleep on my couch could never be a threat to my child, could it? Let me be clear. A pack of dogs, however cute, is dangerous. They may look deceptively like family pets and you may be lulled into a false sense of security by that cuteness or want to “help” them by feeding them. But this is not Fido, or a little lost helpless doggie. These are wild animals that will kill livestock (or your beloved pet) not only out of hunger, but in the spirit of play as is the case with some packs. Just last year a Georgia couple was killed and partially eaten by a pack of stray dogs that a well-meaning neighbor had been feeding. As for the “harmless” nature of letting your cats wander, consider a recent study in Britain that estimated the number of poultry, songbirds and small animals killed by cats at 70 million. Million. Sorry, but if we see Fluffy around our chickens, she won't be coming home tonight.

This is not just a local problem but a nationwide crisis. Spend five minutes online searching for things like “stray dog attack” or “stray dog kills livestock” and count the hits from all over the country. It's staggering. If you can find an alternative to shooting dogs and cats that we haven't tried and had to abandon as not viable or practical we'd love to hear it. We've attempted to find homes for many strays over the years, but if we tried to do that with every stray that wandered on to our property we would have to make dog/cat rescue our full time job. There are just too many of them, and their numbers increase with every litter born. Shelters are overwhelmed and rescues can't take the animals we try to place. Friends and neighbors have no room for more pets.

The state of Tennessee gives us the legal right to shoot a dog on our property regardless of whether or not it is attempting to harm livestock. But legality is not the issue here. What is the issue is my anger at having been repeatedly put in this position. All three of our own dogs are rescued animals living pampered lives filled with love, chew toys, nutrition and the best veterinary care available. Though we have forty acres of land, our dogs are limited to a fenced in yard. It is unfair that we have to bear the responsibility and emotional turmoil of having to shoot other animals that should otherwise be in forever homes with loving families, but we are left with no choice.

Yes, it's horrible to shoot a dog or cat. But it is even more horrible to have to be the person to do it. It's an image that haunts me, even if my husband has to pull the trigger (I simply can't do it). But is it acceptable to have my beloved chickens ravaged to death? Is it acceptable for someone's grandchild to be trampled by my 1900 pound draft horses trying to escape dogs nipping at their heels? I'd say those two scenarios would cause much more pain and suffering than a preventative bullet to the brain of the dog or cat.

It is not our responsibility to keep your animals off our property, it is YOUR responsibility to keep your animals ON yours. Save your criticisms of farmers for trying to protect the animals we love from the animals neglected or abandoned by others. If your dog or cat is shot on our property, you have no one to blame but yourself.