West Tisbury sees no further action on dog/chicken incident


West Tisbury officials this week reaffirmed that the town is not legally required to file a written report regarding an incident last month in which a farmer shot and killed a dog that was harassing his chickens, according to the animal control officer. The identity of the chickens’ owner, a town resident, has not been made public. He killed the dog after he caught the animal chasing chickens on his property off Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. The dog was a 25-pound mixed breed — part border collie and part Sheltie — named Chi.

Owner Matt Gordon, who lives on Vineyard Meadow Farms Road, said he opened the door and turned to talk to his girlfriend when Chi and his other dog ran outside. He said he called the dogs but they didn’t come back.

A few minutes later, Mr. Gordon said he heard gunshots.

Animal Control Officer (ACO) Joan Jenkinson said after the incident that the farmer was within his rights to shoot and kill a dog if it was “worrying, wounding or killing his livestock.”

According to officials, the farmer notified the assistant animal control officer, Allen Healy, about the incident and then delivered the dead animal to Mr. Healy.

Neither Ms. Jenkinson nor Mr. Healy has written a report about the incident. Massachusetts General Law gives residents the right to kill a dog under a wide range of specific circumstances.

“Any person may kill a dog found out of the enclosure of its owner or keeper and not under his immediate care in the act of worrying, wounding, or killing persons, livestock or fowls,” the law reads.

The incident sparked a firestorm of controversy around town and led to an unusually high number of emotional comments on the reader forum on The Martha’s Vineyard Times website.

And while some commenters expressed concern and in some case anger that the animal was killed, an overwhelming number said they agreed the farmer was within his rights to kill the dog, in order to protect his livestock.

Ms. Jenkinson did not respond to emails from The Times this week seeking additional details about the incident. She also did not respond to a message left at town hall seeking comment.

Town administrator Jen Rand did respond to an email from The Times regarding the incident, although her answers were limited since she was not present during the attack.

Ms. Rand said that two chickens were injured in the attack and that the second dog took one of the chickens “never to be seen again.” She said the attack left feathers scattered everywhere.

Ms. Rand said the farmer screamed at the dogs trying to run them off, but they didn’t respond. She said she did not know how many shots were fired and was not sure how close the farmer was to neighboring houses when he fired the gun.

She confirmed that the ACO is not required to file a report unless someone formally files a complaint. In this case the farmer did not file a complaint, but instead notified the ACO after the incident.

Ms. Rand said Mr. Gordon did not ask to know the identity of the person who shot his dog.

Selectmen had little to say about the incident at their regular meeting on November 28. Asked by The Times for a comment on the incident, selectman chairman Cynthia Mitchell declined.

“We haven’t discussed it,” she said. “Certainly we knew about it.”

Ms. Rand said she spoke to town counsel and confirmed there was no law or policy that required a report be filed on the incident.

For whatever reason, West Tisbury has fielded a variety of dog-related issues and controversies over the past few years. There have been several instances of dogs harassing and killing livestock, which resulted in formal hearings before the selectmen.

One case involved two Akitas that got loose on several occasions and repeatedly killed chickens that belonged to a neighbor. Selectmen eventually ordered that both the dogs be banned from town and taken off Island. Recent changes to the animal control laws now prohibit selectmen from banning dogs from their town.

On several occasions, selectmen have discussed the need to protect a farmers’ rights to keep livestock without fear of their animals being harassed or killed by loose, uncontrolled dogs.