West Tisbury selectmen mull canine poultry massacre

Town may be on the hook to reimburse Riggs for lost birds.

Cynthia Riggs pressed West Tisbury selectmen to remind dog owners of town bylaw in the wake of a poultry slaughter at her home thought to have been perpetrated by a dog. — Rich Saltzberg

Mystery writer Cynthia Riggs went before West Tisbury selectmen on June 19 to apprise the board of a surprise slaughter of more than a dozen of her ducks, chickens, and guinea hens by an unidentified assailant.

Riggs, who lives along Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, lost the birds on Thursday, June 13, when an animal believed to be a dog bit the birds to death as they wandered freely on her property. Nobody was at home at the time of the attack, so only the aftermath was observed.

West Tisbury animal control officer Anthony Cordray is searching for the culprit, but has little to go on besides some paw prints. These prints have led him to believe it’s a dog with the mass of a German shepherd, or even larger. After a review of area dog licenses, Cordray said the dog may be owned by tourists or seasonal visitors, because no dog in the vicinity fits the profile of the attack and the print.

Riggs provided photos to the board and the audience of the mauled birds, and pressed the selectmen to remind West Tisbury dog owners of what the town’s dog bylaws are.

“Now this is not the first instance of predation by dogs on our town’s flocks,” she said. “In hopes something can be done to stop attacks on defenseless animals, I request the board of selectmen to authorize the appropriate person to send a letter to all licensed West Tisbury dog owners reminding them of the West Tisbury bylaw that states all dogs owed or kept within the limits of the town shall be restrained from running at large or shall be kept within the immediate control of their owners and keepers.”

The board agreed to this.

Riggs also told the board the community has been extremely supportive, and just recently someone promised her six hatchling ducks.

Chairman Skipper Manter said the board was sorry for the “tragedy” she’s endured. Agriculture is “truly at our roots here,” he said; “sometimes we lose sight of that. But that’s how we all started here many hundreds of years ago, and we support agriculture and we support farming very much …”

Manter said West Tisbury has experienced unfortunate issues like this in the past. The town deals with such matters “harshly and effectively,” he said.

Manter asked Cordray if a dog was caught in the act of killing livestock, what the penalties would be.

Cordray noted if a dog is caught killing, “basically you are permitted to euthanize that dog.”

Manter said that was a polite reference to shooting it. He added that if the dog is not immediately apprehended, but is found culpable later, the selectmen could hold a dangerous dog hearing.

Cordray concurred. “There’s only one dog in the neighborhood that’s of that size,” Cordray said, “and it’s old.” He added he “highly doubted” it was to blame.

Dukes County manager Martina Thornton, who was present on another matter, inquired whether or not there was a fund available to compensate Riggs for the loss of her birds.

Cordray said yes. “There’s a law that the town is required to reimburse her,” he said.

He went on to say if the town can find the owner, they can seek compensation for paying for the animal losses.

“It used to be administered by the county,” Thornton said, “and then I would say three, four, five years back, the legislation changed, and now it’s administered by the towns.”

The board agreed to research it further.

“I’m glad you came,” selectmen Kent Healy said, “because I think it’s important for the public to know that their dogs must be restrained.”

“Yes,” Riggs replied.


  1. Please, Letters Wont do a dam bit of good everybody in America knows there are state & local bylaw that states all dogs owned or kept within the limits of the town shall be restrained from running at large or shall be kept within the immediate control of their owners and keepers.”
    GOD knows how many dozens upon dozens of news articles over the years have pleaded with dog owners to comply and have always fallen on deaf ears and of those who think they are entitled and or just dont care!
    Many people, children and other animals have been bitten, maimed and killed by loose and uncontrolled dogs.
    Law enforcement especially up-island has always been afraid to enforce dog laws.
    Social media even has a island website to report their lost dogs or people who have found dogs roaming around.
    Totally unacceptable but happens again and again and again years after year and all they say is “Im Sorry”.

  2. How about keeping the chickens put in a run as well?? If I have to keep my dog leashed, they should have to keep their chickens up. Fair is fair.

    • A chicken run would seem called for if the poultry were terrorizing the neighborhood but these fowl were reported as the stay-at-home variety, they weren’t trespassing. People should not have to fence their property because another resident isn’t keeping pooch under control.

    • Really? An animal comes onto her property and kills her birds ON HER PROPERTY and you are going to try to blame her? 1. Birds are allowed to be free range. 2. They were on her property.

    • Fowl aren’t necessarily safe even in coops or other enclosures. Skunks, raccoons, and dogs are quite capable of digging under or gnawing their way through your average fencing.

    • The law does not say “leashed”, it says under control and not allowed to run at large. I guess “under control” probably means different things to different people.

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