To the Editor:
Listen, my words will find you because you need to hear them. Today on Sunday, November 11, 2012 a friend of mine was shot through the heart. Today a friend of mine passed on much too soon. My friend had four paws, his fur was silver and gray with golden highlights. One eye blue and one eye gold, his gaze was gentle and filled with light.
Yes, Chi was a dog. That always-loving-bounding-and-wriggling-with-joy kind of dog. Chi was adored by a large and diverse community of Island friends. He was a child among dogs, not even two years old. He was still learning.
Listen, I have kept my own flock of chickens and ducks for 25 years. I have often suffered the hurt of losing birds to predators. There is a particular rage that burns in my heart each time I remember the rats that ate my newly hatched ducklings, the raccoons that disemboweled several of my beloved elderly hens, the pair of Labradors that ran loose through my yard just last month chasing my ducks. There is a particular frustration that I feel when I think of the chickens that I lost to hawks this past August. All the time and energy and love and money that I poured into those birds. I proudly brought them to the Fair, I didn’t lose a single one for months, until one week I lost nearly all.
But I don’t blame the rats or raccoons. I don’t blame the hawks. They had to eat, they found easy food. I blame myself for the incomplete fencing. I blame myself for my distracted attention. I blame myself for my lax and too-slow reaction. Chickens are living, loving creatures with unique personalities, but I don’t keep them solely for their love. I keep them for their eggs. As a farmer I accept that I will lose some animals to predation and unavoidable accident. Today you killed a dog. This was not an unavoidable accident. A dog is not replaceable. A dog is taught from its first breath how to connect with a human being. How to be a listening companion, how to be an individual. How to love.
When you looked out your window and saw the two dogs running havoc in your chicken pen, did you think of chasing them off or calling animal control? Or did you first grab your gun? Did you feel the injustice and were you awed by the fury of your protective reflex? As you entered the pen, did you assess the severity of the situation before you acted? Or did you react out of fear and anger? When you raised the gun, did you hesitate before you made your decision? As you took aim did you admire the way Chi’s silky hair reflected the light?
I remember a day when I was ten. I was home alone and a large black dog came to our yard in Edgartown. It broke through the electric fence and began to chase our goats. I remember running out of the house barefoot, oblivious to stones underfoot. I chased that dog with a stick, I stood guard over the injured baby goat. I snarled and hurled stones each time the dog came close. All the power that ever was or will be was in me, because I was the protector. But I also loved the dog. I admired his rough black coat and the skillful way he herded the goats, his grace and agility. Though I refused to back down, still I respected his perfect dog-ness.
Some dogs discover their dog-ness and can never be fully recovered to their human-ness. We’ve had a few of these over the years. The sheep killers, the chicken slaughterers, the ones who keep offending, keep killing, keep escaping and running rampant in the backwoods of West Tisbury. We’ve all read the stories in the paper, and we like to think we know what kind of dog that killer is. As if there was a blueprint for rampage, a formula for violence.
As the owner of two dogs, I believe that it is always the owner’s responsibility when the dog gets into trouble. A dog has instincts and must always be kept within eyesight. Chi had never attacked a chicken before, but Chi wasn’t given an opportunity to learn from his mistakes. You made all the decisions for him, for his owner, for his friends, for yourself.
You are one of around 1,254 registered gun owners on the Island. You were acting within your legal rights. You fired your gun in a residential area. You were protecting your livestock while endangering your neighbors. None of your neighbors know that you might do the same thing to their dog if you ever feel that your livestock is being threatened. You shot this dog with excellent marksmanship right through the heart. You delivered the body to the proper authorities, and you want to remain anonymous. You know who you are. I hope you will step up to own your actions and explain your perspective.
Dogs can be fenced. Dogs can be trained. Chickens will always need better protection than we can give them. Chickens can be replaced. Damages can be repaid. The love that Chi gave to his owner and to his vast family of Island friends cannot be replaced. All that remains is pain.
I look at my own dogs, who have learned to respect chickens, and I feel the immense, irreplaceable, and unique love that they each give to me all the time.
My heart breaks for Chi. It breaks for your terrified chickens. It breaks for Chi’s owner who feels all this abrupt wrenching loss. It breaks for you, whoever you are. It breaks for this Island, which strives to keep the trust and the safety, and the loving kindness of this community intact. It breaks for all the deaths which go un-noticed and un-memorialized. At least Chi will live on in our memories.