Monday, September 17, 2007

Dangerous Strays – Unpleasant Duty

Just t'other day, Elder Son Matt blogged about a bothersome dog. He's a cop in a nearby small town –call it Smallburg-- that is fortunate to have an exceptionally good police department. I don't say this merely because I'm proud of my offspring, which I surely am, but because the outfit delivers the populace a lot higher quality service than you'd expect from such a small agency. The chief sets a high standard for his officers, sees that they have good equipment, and fosters A Good Attitude amongst the troops. They, in turn, preserve the public peace, protect the citizenry, and generally serve the community. They do the stuff that Peace Officers are expected to do, but the rather trite old phrase, “Protect and Serve” pretty well sums it up.

Protection is a lot of different things - - People can't do much high speed driving on residential streets without being taken to task. Frequent patrols discourage burglars. Prompt response to calls for service allows residents some peace of mind.

There are always budgetary considerations for any public entity. One of these is that Smallburg hasn't been able to pay enough to keep a full time Animal Control Officer on staff. It therefore follows that the local police must answer most animal complaints. I'll not rehash the story Matt has already told in “Dog Problems.” Click and read when convenient. As with so much of life in general, and peace officering in particular, “the devil's in the details.” SPD cops are not trigger happy. Once the circumstances dictate that a dangerous animal must be put down, there are considerations: Safe field of fire, least disturbance to the peace, and proper choice of tools. Matt's a conscientious peace officer, an experienced hunter, and a fine marksman. He takes all those factors into account, and will step up and Do What Must Be Done.

As I say, it's Matt's story, and I'll not retell it for him. I am impressed with the responses made in the comments. He invited it, so there's a goodly amount concerning the ballistic aspects of the situation. But there are also some thoughtful remarks on the morality of the matter which bear examination. I'm happy to see there's no, “Oh you brute! How COULD you kill one of God's creatures?” trend.

I'm happy to provide links to commentators I quote. Jenna writes a good one and I hope you read it.
Labrat says, “a feral dog or a dog that has gone over that way is every bit as dangerous as any medium-to-large predator with no terror of humans. From the dog's perspective, it's in hell. It has no security, no packmates, and it's either frightened or aggressing most of the time, and neither state is pleasant or peaceful. Put the poor thing out of everyone's misery.“ A profound observation.
KCSteve said, “It's the less pleasant part of The Contract.They gave themselves over to us on the promise that we'd take care of them.When it's this kind of care needed the best thing is to make it as quick and clean as possible.”

Over the years, I've needed to put down several animals, for a variety of reasons. The only ones that gave me any gratification were when some strays had packed up and were actually driving picnickers away from their food in a lake park. Another officer and I were detailed to solve the problem with our rifles. Even then, there was the later letdown, thinking that those destroyed animals had probably at some point provided companionship to someone. Then they were “taken out to the country” and dumped. Likely, someone had rationalized, “Oh, he'll hunt his own food, he'll be fine.” Or, “She'll find a new home where she'll be happy.” Wonder what other lies those people told their kids. Or themselves. I know most of these pet dumpers are just weak, but I think it a despicable practice.

Most of my experiences in this line have been to destroy some sick, starving stray. Occasionally it was the beloved pet of a friend who just couldn't bear to do what was needed. I've heard, “JP, you're a hunter, so you don't mind this sort of thing.” How to tell such a person that this is different from harvesting game that'll be eaten and cherished for the experience. Or carrying out predator control. A couple of times, the old, sick dog had licked my hand when I visited, or a big blind cat had curled up beside me on the couch . . . . Yeah, I rationalize it by the certain knowledge that I cared enough to not botch the job. “If 't must be done, 'twere well it be done quickly.” Quick and clean, and that's the sole comfort in doing such a favor.

One more personal note. I was six when we lived a little north of Ryan, Oklahoma. My Dad built and fenced a chicken coop near the house, and it seems we kept around 50 chickens. We ate some and gave some away, and, presumably sold or bartered most of the eggs. I'm not sure
Just before we had moved from town, my Collie dog Duke had been killed while chasing traffic. A friend of the family gave me a nondescript, full-grown dog, thinking he'd be happy on our 40 acres in the country. I dubbed the dog King, and he hadn't been in residence long when one afternoon, there was a huge clamor out back. I ran to the back door where my Mother was yelling at my dog. It, and a neighbor's dog, were in the chicken pen, killing chickens. I mean, wantonly slaughtering them, left, right, and center, just for the sport.

Mother said, “J, bring me the twenty-two.” I ran and got the rifle. Sure, I knew where it was, and that it was always loaded, and that I wasn't to bother it unless told. I took it to the back door and pleaded with her not to kill my dog. She shouldered the Stevens autoloader –it's in my safe now – and killed the neighbor's dog. One shot, clean and true. I don't remember a kick.

Mother lowered the rifle and yelled, “GIT!” King paused in his labors, looked up at her, and then turned and grabbed another chicken. She may have glanced down at me, I dunno. What I DO recall is two sounds: Another little brang and the sound of the empty case hitting the porch. Again, no thrashing, no kicking; what I'd later learn to call DOS, dead on the scene, or dead on the spot.

Of course, I went out and sat by my dog, and stroked its coat. I recall a little blood on the head but I didn't examine it closely. The other dog was exactly the same. In a short while, my Dad came home. He walked out and said some gruffly comforting things on the loss of my dog. Well, I'd been sitting there, trying to work up a mad at Mother for killing King. It didn't take, though. Somehow, even at that tender age, I understood that a chicken rancher could NOT harbor a hen killing dog.

Mother had grown up on my Papaw's farm, one of nine children. They were all expected to take a hand in the family enterprise, and have some proficiency with all the farm tools. She was the eldest girl, expected to set an example, and the tools included rifle and shotgun. She never had any interest in handguns, but she and Dad joked about their first dates being rabbit hunting excursions. She was a pragmatic farm girl who later went to nursing school, and she had no difficulty dealing with bloody matters.

It helped that I'd only had King for a short while. I'd not known him as a playful, big-footed puppy. Yes, when I thought of feeding him and such, I snuffled a bit that evening. When I later went to say good night, I thought I heard Mother coughing in their bedroom. When I looked in, she had tears in her eyes. One does what must be done, but there's a price.


Matt G said...

Well told, and I heard some stuff for the first time.

Our local stray has been put down.

Tennessee Budd said...

Well put. I've had to put some down. It's never pleasant, but it is necessary. My girlfriend had to put down a friend's old and ailing cat awhile back. My advice was only to make it clean and quick. It's a lot easier to live with; if you botch it, it's damned hard.

LabRat said...

KCSteve was closer to the heart of the matter than I was.

We arrange their births, sometimes to the point of producing entire races of dogs with achondroplastic dwarfism, dogs with no snouts, dogs with such large heads they must be born by C-section, dogs so tiny their pups must eat every few hours or die of hypoglycemia. We arrange their lives, contorting them so that a large predator can live harmlessly among us. We accepted a deal with those first two steps: arranging their deaths to be as free of pain and fear as possible is the last responsibility.

I used to work as a vet tech to earn money for school. We saw the results of many dumped animals, and just as many people who wanted us to kill their pets for completely trivial reasons. Maybe they were moving, maybe they couldn't get a dog to stop barking, maybe the cat developed a mild but chronic disease. Our clinic refused convenience euthanasias, but by the way many people reacted you'd think we'd turned them down for medicine.

It was the other side, the people who would pour as much money as was sane into their friends, and then stand by them and keep them relaxed and loved as the needle went in after more care was no longer sane that kept me from actually opening fire on the former group.

Matt G said...

I sure do enjoy reading your comments, LabRat.

SpeakerTweaker said...

You have a way of easing the blow, sir. If a kid these days had to watch something like that, it'd be seven years of therapy before he was a productive member of society.

You remind me of what many of my generation refer to as The Good Ole' Days.

And I mean that as the highest compliment, sir.


LabRat said...

Well, I sure do enjoy reading your blog, Matt, so we're even. *g*

Marko said...

That, sir, was some fine reading.

I'd tell you that you're an excellent writer, but that would feel a tad presumptuous, seeing how you probably have socks in your dresser drawers that are older than I am.

Matt G said...

Marko, he'd take that compliment from you. Trust me. I've heard him on more than one occasion compliment your writing to the room at large.

Eric F. said...

I don't have a blog, but this topic has hit home for us this weekend. It isnt a problem dog, it is a problem owner. 9 week old mini-dachshund is left in the backyard all day, no shade, and the yard is infested with fireants. I have taken the puppy in twice. I warned them that the next time, we will keep him until they are deemed fit owners by the local animal control people. The Sheriff Dept is behind us on this.

If it keeps up, I may have to get a .22 for, well, not the puppy.

lainy said...

I've never had to do an unpleasant thing like that, but my dad has. It's something that has to be done at times. And, thank God good people like you,Matt and dad do it in a humanely way.

Love to read your stories.

Kate said...

Sometimes it just has to be done. Bless all who will do the job humanely and weep for the animals after the deed is done.

knitalot3 said...

Living on a farm/ranch sometimes has some unpleasant realities.

Well written.

Anonymous said...

One does what must be done, but there's a price.
I don't have a lot of words, But that sentence describes life. Well Done!!
Gunsmoke 45441

phlegmfatale said...

Great post. I got a little choked up. Of course, not having kids, I have perhaps an unreasonable degree of attachment to my dog. But I'm one of those people labrat talked about who would spend every dime reasonable to keep her around. That said, uncared-for animals are a hazard to others and to themselves. I'd prefer to have a problem dog put down quickly and humanely, than to suffer after being run over, and possibly endangering motorists and their passengers.

Farm.Dad said...

In the 80s and 90s I was an officer in basically rural Colorado . Out in the boonies where my career was spent the local L.E. agency WAS animal control . I could not begin to estimate how many " former pets " I put down over the years , nor how many I found homes for where they were loved . I now farm and ranch and be dammed if folks dont still call me to ease a loved pet out of this world . No matter how I hate the job , any animal deserves a quick, clean , and pain free as possible death . I suppose I would say the same for humans , tho a few do tempt me towards other means, as well as personal involvement LOL.

Assrot said...

Hey buddy. I posted a comment to this dog thing you wrote about and it seems to have gotten deleted. Did I offend in some way. If so please tell me how so I don't do it again. I kind of like your blog. I don't want to get flamboozled from the get go. Please email me if I did something wrong and tell me what it was.

JPG said...

ar - -
I tried to look up your e-mail but couldn't find it. Perhaps I'm not looking in the right place. Anyhow, please send me an e-mail at
and I'll explain my reasoning.

Assrot said...

My email is



Anonymous said...

G'day. I just had to hand my Blue Cattle Dog in to the pound - for killing chickens. I just can't get over the fact they declared her a dangerous dog and she has been or will be about to be put down. i have had her for three years and NEVER has she posed a threat to me or my family friends or neighbours. I have young kids 2 and 4 who absolutely adore her. What posesses a dog to do this??? It's such a loss for us, and i can imagine the people who owned the chickens.