EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 16, 2013

NH dog law under debate after shooting

By Alex Lippa

---- — 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.

Birdsall met with Judy Galietta last week. She said she would be talking to other representatives and looking into the law.

“We are just in an information finding phase right now,” she said.

Birdsall said any proposed bill would not be discussed formally this year.

Any bill would be unlikely to completely remove a person’s right to shoot a dog.

Windham farmer Scott Johnson said he thinks that is a good thing.

“There is only so much a farmer can do to protect its animals,” said Johnson, owner of Highland View Farm. “I would think shooting would be the last option. On the other hand, if you have an animal going crazy, you have to do something quick.”

Johnson said dogs have gotten into his animals’ enclosures before and he has had to chase them away.

“I do my best to catch them for the owner,” Johnson said. “I love animals; the last thing I want to do is shoot a dog. But they can cause a lot of destruction.”

Lt. Mike Eastman, a district chief for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Club, said dog owners have some responsibility when they let their dog run loose.

“I don’t condone killing someone else’s dog, but there is some onus on owners that they need to keep dog in check,” Eastman said. “I think the law should remain in place.”

Brian Farrell, an animal control officer in Plaistow, Danville and part time in Hampstead, said he believes the law should take into account what kind of animal it is.

“If there were stray animals stressing out livestock, it could be warranted,” Farrell said. “But, given the type of dog this was in Hampstead, I think it was definitely taken to the max.”

Blaszka said she would like to see “worry” taken out of the law.

“It needs to be a more definitive word,” she said. “I understand you want to protect your animals, but I just don’t want to see any animals get hurt.”