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January 16, 2013

NH dog law under debate after shooting

Dog killing was legal, but law may change

After Hampstead resident Christopher Gibbons shot and killed a dog he said was scaring his rabbits, Carolyn Blaszka could sympathize with him. But that doesn’t mean she would take the same course of action.

Blaszka, who also lives in Hampstead, used to own rabbits. About 10 years ago, a family dog came into her yard and started barking at the rabbits. The dog then reached into the cage and chewed off part of one rabbit’s paw. The rabbit had to be taken to an animal hospital, but Blaszka said she would take the same course of action if it happened again.

“I’m not a gun owner, so I don’t have that recourse,” she said. “I hate to see any animal hurt. I would just chase the dog off.”

If she had decided to shoot the dog, she would have been justified, under New Hampshire law. The law states any dog “worrying” another owner’s domestic animals can be shot.

Gibbons shot Sadie, a Brittany spaniel owned by neighbors Judy and Fred Galietta, after he said she was “terrifying” his rabbits.

Gibbons said he fired a warning shot from an upstairs window before shooting Sadie with a .223-caliber AR-15 rifle. Police concluded Gibbons acted legally under the law and he was not charged.

Local legislators are looking into the law to see if it should be changed. Rep. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, believes the law is vague.

“The term worrying needs some clarification,” she said. “My preference would be just to have a definition of what the agricultural community believes to be worrying.”

The law has been in place since 1891, but an attempt to amend it was made in 2008. Two representatives tried to omit the word “worrying” from the law. They also tried to make it illegal to kill an animal without lawful authority. The proposal didn’t go anywhere.

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