Dog allegedly kills hen, deemed nuisance

Mystery writer Cynthia Riggs says incident provides closure for another bird massacre.

Cynthia Riggs with some of her ducks. — Rich Saltzberg

Updated July 24

In a unanimous vote Wednesday evening, West Tisbury selectmen labeled a local dog a nuisance and in a separate 2-1 vote ordered it fenced in following a report it slaughtered a pet hen named “Buffy.” Mystery writer Cynthia Riggs came before the board telephonically and recounted how her studio tenant discovered the dog slaying the hen outside her door on the evening of July 7.

After hearing a commotion, Riggs said her tenant went to the door to investigate, whereupon she saw “a very large gray and white dog running to her studio, with Buffy, one of our hens, in his mouth, shaking her.”

Riggs said the tenant shouted at the dog and it ran off. The police were then called and they called animal control officer Anthony Cordray, who Riggs said arrived promptly. The hen was dead, Riggs said. Cordray scouted the neighborhood and within “10 minutes,” returned with photos of a dog and upon viewing them, the tenant said she was “reasonably certain” they were of the dog that killed the hen.

Lynn Christoffers, Riggs’ tenant, told the board the account Riggs gave them was accurate. (Cristoffers is a contributor to The Times.)

“I will say that the entire incident happened very quickly, because the commotion was so loud, I ran to the door — I just was more focused on the hen than I was on the dog, but it was definitely that coloration and that size. And I can’t tell you how harmful it is, because these are pets, to have them just killed like that.”

Christoffers went on to say a year earlier, 13 of Riggs’ birds were killed by an unidentified assailant. “Which makes one think it can happen again,” she said.

Matt Hayden, owner of the dog, told the board his dog “has an alibi” for the incident last year. 

“So just drop that from all you guys’ brains,” he said. “I have no qualms that she might have done the July 7th one. You can only run after a dog so long before, like, you lose her. I run after my dog. I get in my car. I chase the hell out of it. I do my best to restrain her. A dog’s a dog. Sometimes stuff happens. Year ago, I don’t know. This one, she could have done it. I’m not saying she did or didn’t, but I’m not saying she wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t put it past her to do it. She did get loose, couldn’t find her, and the chicken is dead, so I’m sorry about Buffy, but my dog probably did kill Buffy, but I don’t know what happened a year ago, but I knew the day, because Bradley was at my house looking for my dog, and it was right in my car. That’s all I got to say. Whatever you want me to do with the dog, I’ll kill it, I’ll cage it — I’m down for whatever. I’m just trying to get along with everybody in town.”

Selectman Skipper Manter said he wanted to make clear the hearing wasn’t about events from a year ago, but the recent July event. Selectman Cynthia Mitchell and animal control officer Anthony Cordray agreed.

Cordray recommended the board deem Hayden’s dog a nuisance. Cordray later told The Times the dog was a husky named Nesta. 

Based on the eyewitness account and the timeliness of the animal control officer’s investigation, among other factors, Manter said “the preponderance of evidence” led him to believe the dog did the July 7 killing. 

“I would agree completely with Skipper,” Cordray said.

Asked by Mitchell if he thought the dog was the perpetrator, selectman Kent Healy said, “It certainly appears that way, yes.”

Ahead of the vote, Hayden asked what the definition of a nuisance dog was.

Mitchell read the statute. “A dog that 1. By excessive excessive barking or other disturbance is a source of annoyance to a sick person who is residing in the vicinity, or 2. By excessive barking, causing damage, or other interference, a reasonable person would find such such behavior disruptive to one’s quiet and peaceful enjoyment, or 3. Has threatened or attacked livestock, a domestic animal, or a person, but such threat or attack was not a grossly disproportionate reaction under all the circumstances.”

“I think half the dogs on New Lane will fall into that category,” Hayden said. 

Following the board’s vote, Cordray recommended a six-foot-high fence enclosure of no less than 400 square feet with double gates “installed in a manner that prevents the dog from escaping,” a doghouse with ample room for the dog, and the use of a leash “at all times when outside the enclosure.”   

“If that’s something that’s going to be enforced, I will be euthanizing my dog this weekend,” Hayden said. “And you can come over and watch if you want.” 

Hayden went on to say he couldn’t afford such an enclosure. 

“If the dog was euthanized, obviously this would cease,” Manter said, “but I just don’t know, Matt, maybe there are people out there — organizations that might be able to assist you financially with a gate and fencing.”

Manter said he hoped Hayden wouldn’t look at the matter “quite so gloomily.”

Hayden said he has wanted fencing, but has other household construction items that take priority. 

“There are adoption agencies on the Island that you could take [her] to,” Cordray said. Among other things, Cordray said, adoption would be less expensive than euthanizing the dog. 

Manter said he wouldn’t recommend what Cordray suggested.

Hayden said he intends to euthanize his own dog “his own way,” in response to a suggestion that he seek options for adoption on the Island.

Mitchell said she expects Cordray will be as supportive as possible going forward.

Manter then asked Cordray if he recalled an incident “over in the Pond View Farm area” with the same dog, an incident “I had,” Manter said. 

Cordray said he did recall that incident.

Chasing chickens and horses, Manter said. “And what did Mr. Hayden tell you he was going to do with his dog at that time?”

“That was a year ago,” Cordray said. “I think he said he was going to keep it restrained.”  

“I thought you told me he said he had to euthanize,” Manter said.

“Well, he might have said that,” Cordray said. “It was a year ago.”

“I called him because she got loose again and I was scared [she] went after the sheep that [she] was caught at before, and I said he might have to euthanize [her] because once she gets in that mode …”

Mitchell put the kibosh on the recollections. “Can we keep the discussion to the matter at hand, please?” she asked. 

“As you know, I have taken a strong stand on dogs that have destroyed or attacked or worried livestock since I’ve been a member of the board of selectmen,” Manter said. ‘I think it’s imperative that we support our farmers in our community.” 

Manter went on to say West Tisbury used to be composed of huge farms but now many are small and many people have backyard farms.

“People should know we’re an agricultural community, and they come first,” he added. “It’s terribly unfortunate that Cynthia went through this.”

Manter said once a dog has destroyed livestock once, “that should be it. And I’m wholly in favor of having the dog euthanized.”

The board opted not to take action harsher than what Cordray recommended. The board voted 2-1 to authorize the fencing order, with Manter being the dissenting vote. The board gave Hayden three weeks to complete the work. 

Cordray reported Riggs declined to accept compensation for the hen from the town.

Riggs later told The Times said she believed Hayden’s dog was behind the slaughter of 13 or her birds last summer.

“No question about it,” she said. “Because after that dog attack — it had been a rainy day — so we scouted the property and we found a big dog paw print … over near [my] solar array, leading toward New Lane. The exact same direction [it] went this time.”

Riggs went on to say she felt a second massacre was narrowly averted.

“Lynn feels, and I feel too, that if she hadn’t intercepted the dog, she’d again have killed all the animals that were around.”

She said she bore no ill will toward the dog. She blames the owner.

Riggs said her chickens were pets as much as Hayden’s dog is a pet. 

“They’re not just chickens, they’ve got names,” she said. She said the other chickens have been “traumatized” by the attack, as evidenced, she said, by a precipitous decline in their egg laying. 

Riggs said, to her mind, the mystery of what happened to her birds last year has been resolved. 

“I feel as if it’s a certain amount of closure on this, because we were convinced that we knew who the dog was, and nobody was saying anything,” she said, “none of the neighbors, nobody would even say that was the dog.” 


Updated to correct the board’s vote on fencing in the dog, to give the dog’s name, and to identify its breed. 


  1. Many dog owners are innocent and their dogs are too, but there is no question that dog owners in general are some of the most entitled people to walk the island, and that dogs in general are essentially a nuisance to many besides their owner. We don’t see this ever in the behavior of cats! I will leave you with the following quote, which is not out of the ordinary for someone who owns a dog: “ A dog’s a dog. Sometimes stuff happens.“. Classic. I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t be sad if the world were rid of dogs, they also come in to play during property disputes a neighbor disputes. Classic. I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t be sad if the world were rid of dogs, they also come in to play during property disputes and neighbor dispute. How they are, “man’s best friend” when they caused so many problems is a miracle. Let’s keep in mind further, but they are dumb as bricks compared to cats, who may kill birds and the like, but you will not find them at the center of so many offenses everywhere. All that said, some dog owners are quite wonderful and so are some dogs. They are in the minority.

    • You must know some absolutely brilliant and empathetic bricks, Islander.

      My original comment didn’t make it, so I’ll just say that any person who would prefer to kill a pet over putting it up for adoption disgusts me. Some dogs cannot be around chickens, etc. but show no aggression towards humans. And some owners would rather end a life than take responsibility for their own failings and personalities. I read that part of the article three times to make sure I was understanding. Seems clear he doesn’t even plan to take this dog to a vet.

      “And you can come over and watch if you want.”

      Boy, he really showed them. What kind of person says this?

    • ‘who may kill birds and the like, but you will not find them at the center of so many offenses everywhere.’
      Unless you are a bird.

    • You are something else islander. I can tell you many Heroic stories about military dogs.
      I can never figure out where you are coming from or where you are from, not that I really care – just sayn..

      • I can tell you many disgusting stories about dogs mauling small children.
        It is a dogs nature, to dominate.

    • People who don’t like dogs seem like an absolute joy to be around… you know, the type of people who make me want to leave my own house party early.

      • I have a handful of close friends who have dogs, sometimes they flout lease laws, other times not. Leash laws are there for a reason and in fact, I have no problem with dogs when they are leashed, etc. Great, you love a dog, it’s a free country, have one. They will NEVER be as smart as cats and while it’s true that there are heroic military dogs, etc.those dogs are trained as such, like police dogs. You don’t want to be on the other side of those dogs and that’s exactly my point. Dogs almost always seem to be at the verge of going nuts over nothing and if they are close by, they will often harass you. Someone once told me, “If you are calm, they will not bother you and come up and leap on you”. But WTF, if that is a dog’s m.o. – that they will harass you and even more so if they sense fear? Would we think people like that are any fun to be around? Many dogs harass me and they are scary. If you think that’s my problem – well, it is, because many of you do not leash them and they freak me out. I’ve almost been bitten numerous times and they in general have almost always been a nuisance. Then, when you regularly see dog problems in the paper, it just reinforces the view that while some may be lovable and sweet, that they are generally a problematic animal for a pet. Yes, I like some dogs. I can tolerate them and see they are sweet. But if you don’t leash your dog and I am at the beach or out hiking? Forget it! Maybe you think I’m a killjoy, but let me tell you doe,thing – send me your address and I will be happy to come over and bark at all hours and to rush up to you and climb on you whenever you are around. See how you like it! I’m sure I sound like a crazy person. But try to see it from the other side. And I am happy to collect addresses — we could see how much you love a dog that isn’t your own and kills your chickens. Any dog with that kind of blood in his veins damn well ought to be put down. I’ll come and kill your chickens – see what happens to me. I’d be arrested.

        • Islander, I have no idea why you think cats are smarter than dogs, but even if that were true, dogs have such sweet souls. Yes, some can be very intimidating and should be leashed and trained. But so many are extremely gentle and friendly. I was mauled once — the fault of an abusive owner. It hasn’t changed my love for pups.

          I feel for Cynthia over her loss of Buffy. I understand Buffy was a pet and that this should not have happened. But it’s insane to say that a dog that goes after birds should be put down. She should definitely be fenced in and trained by someone with love and patience so that this stops. But NOT killed.

          Do you eat chicken? What kind of blood do you have in your veins?

          • Aquinnah, cats will always be smarter then dogs — dogs are dependent on their owner for everything, cats are their own Kong’s and queens. We may “own” them or keep them as pets, but ask any cat owner — the cat is the owner of human!

            Like I said, if an animals General m.o. is going to be, “I’m going to harass you and if you show fear, it’ll be even worse” when they don’t know you — who would want to be around a person like that, much less an animal that bites and can kill. Many of them are the ones that are not fun, not me. If a strange person treated you the way á strange dog does as a woman you would want him arrested! Many are wonderful animals. But overall they cause too many problems.

            About killing chickens. If I killed a neighbor’s chicken for any reason I would be arrested and fined. I would have a police record. And this “pup” gets to be adopted? Give us a break. I’m not going to be treated as some lesser-than by a 4-legged beast.

            BSD2006 – I don’t “hate” dogs. In fact, while there are none that I LOVE, there area a few I am fond of, they are sweet, but you look in their eyes and unlike a cat’s where you see intelligence, calm often, and focus, dogs are often vacant, completely devoted to masters with little of their own personality. But whatever. Some people I love, Love dogs. So I love them, too, when they are nice and they are not a nuisance.

        • And the award for worst person in the message boards goes to…Islander…Who hates dogs, seriously???

          • Islander, potentially dangerous dogs that go after humans have to be walked, leashed, and fenced in with the utmost care. They do make me extremely nervous, and their owners are often not responsible or invested in training. I grew up around a number of dogs like that and was fearful. I see what you mean. Definitely not advocating for anyone who is careless with a pet to continue that bad practice. Sorry if it came across that way.

            With this dog, I didn’t see an indication that she is a threat to people or that anything has been tried to rehab her. Some have instincts that make them go after birds but are otherwise gentle or trainable when someone puts in the effort and has a calming approach. I really don’t know what the case is, but to not even try to give her a different setting and life, away from hens, seems beyond cruel. Especially with the horrible way her owner spoke of her. Like she’s a thing to be disposed of. Tells me no one has invested in her. There are rescues that deal with just this kind of scenario.

            Cats ARE more outwardly regal. Dogs often still own their people but are so damn sweet that they make you think it was all your idea to do their bidding. So who’s really winning, the obvious diva or the heart of gold that rules the house with benevolence and humor? ???? (Although I also want kitties to be safe and happy. And the clueless ones are adorable.)

            As for killing your neighbors’ chickens, I mean… that would not be nice or go over well because you grasp the penal code and property lines. While I feel terrible for Cynthia Riggs and completely understand why this was traumatizing — not trying to downplay her feelings or saying it should’ve happened — the dog doesn’t know what she did was unneighborly. No malice aforethought. We can’t expect them to view the world from a human perspective.

          • Jackie – I like it, good sense of humor! Believe it or not, I actually have a lot of friends here. This is an anonymous name. But most of them know my antipathy for dogs, but typically it doesn’t come up. Thanks for inquiring.

        • People are considered smart by what they can trained to do.
          What can you train a cat to do other than to eat and not urinate on your pillow, every time.

        • Islander…dogs are great judge of character–maybe that’s why you’ve almost been bitten numerous times….just saying

    • With our nation in flames it is ludicrous to be discussing a dead chicken.
      The supermarkets have thousands of dead chickens.
      What is one more.

  2. Fences are very expensive. See if an invisible fence would qualify. I use one by pet safe. It’s a u it that plugs into the wall. The dog has a collar and you set distance he can roam. It’s also great to travel with. Good luck

    • fisherman1687- not all dogs do well with the invisible fence, some will just take the jolt and keep on going.

    • What @proudamerican said. Invisible fences are not a good idea with northern-breed dogs (including huskies) or any dog with a high prey drive.

      • The story has been updated after confirming with the animal control officer. The dog is a husky.

    • Don-doesn’t matter what kind of dog. If it were a pit-bull type, would that change your mind about rehoming this pet?? All pitbulls are killers in waiting you know…there are lots of breeds out there that if you don’t responsibly raise them, they could be problematic.

      • ok, sorry I hit post comment before I finished my reply to Don.
        I don’t believe all pitbull types are killers, I was being sarcastic.
        I also don’t believe that dogs are bad, they just have bad owners.

        • Not true, there are some bad dogs with good owners.
          I think that I am as reasonably good dog owner.
          I have adopted two greyhounds.
          The first was a ‘bad’ dog, he was very aggressive toward toddlers, we had two.
          A month of professional training to no avail.
          He went back to the kennel and was re-adopted by a childless couple.
          They think he is a good dog, they know that they can never let him off leash.
          The second greyhound was a good dog.
          No leash needed, except in town.
          He wouldn’t hurt a flea.
          But barn/Norway rats were dispatched with a quick snap.
          My son’s class would rotate taking the the Guinea Pig home for the weekend.
          My son’s class think we had a bad dog.
          So many judgment calls.

    • seamen– this is a local paper talking about local things, and you think an article about a dog killing someone’s chickens is inappropriate? Right– if you are the victim of a home invasion next week, please forgive me if I could care less, and who cares who did it?
      you get the dondondon dumbest comment of the week award for this one.

    • Seaman what I think you meant to say was democratically controlled cities are up in flames & we’re taking time to talk about a beloved pet chicken. I truly feel bad about Ms Riggs pet, I’d be devastated myself as she has a bond and I know firsthand I’d be just crushed if my pets life was taken because of the irresponsibility of others. Mr Hayden comes across as a bit simple as he seems to think the only solution is for he himself to euthanize his own dog even after others have offered other possible alternatives. If I was his dog I’d probably want to run away from home too.

    • Speaking of being in flames.
      145,000 dead from Covid 19, 25-50? dead from riots brought on by police brutality.

    • If the President of the United States can play golf while the country around him rots in disease, racism, and an economic depression, we can still love our pets.

  3. Anyone concerned the guy would rather kill his dog than rehome it with a shelter, seems barbaric.

    • It is. I am not sure his plans are even legal. He was not ordered to euthanize the dog, if we can even be so generous as to call his implied plan that, and even when a town does give that order, it’s on the books that it must be done humanely. Does this legally count as humane? Why isn’t he willing to explore the many options, including contacting rescues that work with and rehome dogs in this position? He literally came out and said, “I’ll kill it, I’ll cage it — I’m down for whatever”, like it’s as simple as ordering a pizza. This dog stands NO chance with such a uncaring and irresponsible owner. It’s not about money. He doesn’t value the dog’s life. I wish I knew who to contact to see if he’s allowed to proceed. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

  4. This is a sad story for both parties involved.
    Unfortunately it’s true that when a dog get a taste of this behavior it’s hard to break them of the habit. Some dogs have a very strong animal instinct and are very clever and true escape artist. They will stop at nothing to get out if they want out. It’s in all breeds but a lot of this instinct has been bred out of the average domestics. I have seen it happen to any breed even the sweet Golden Retriever. I hope their is another solution other than putting the dog down. Best of luck with a solution.

  5. Ok, this guy who owns the dog is an offense to humanity. what kind of callous uncaring individual would rather kill his own dog than rehome it? The paper won’t print my response if I write how I REALLY feel about the dog owner.What’s sad is he’s not the only one with an attitude like this.
    BigT-We don’t know if this dog is an escape artist as it does not have an enclosure now.
    Having a dog is a responsibility, it needs training, care and love. Some people think if they feed their dog and scream at it when it does something bad that they are doing all the right things and “just don’t understand” why the dog acts the way it does.
    Give me the dog, I will find a home for it. George at the paper has my email. I’d rather take it and show it real love and real training rather than know this person is going to KILL his own pet.

    • Proudamerican, it would be wonderful if you could take the dog! Is the owner on Facebook? Maybe you can contact him directly. I would do it ASAP.

    • Sigh.
      C’mon people.
      Do people really think this dog owner plans to kill his dog ?
      Most of us are guilty of speaking emotionally out of passion when under stress.
      I love my pooch. I feel for the owner of these chickens.
      I strongly suspect these quoted words were spoken out of angst and fear.
      Can we not give this man a break.He’s hardly the worst human being to walk the planet.
      But we know who is….l

      • Gutsy, yes, I really do believe he intends to kill his dog. Unless something has changed, which I hope it has. The town gave him instructions on how to keep the dog and his neighbors safe. Their determination was reasonable and in everyone’s best interest. He refused to comply and made a show of saying he would kill her in his own way, even when adoption was suggested. He flat-out stated that killing “it” is fine with him. “Down for whatever” isn’t angst. It’s apathy. There is no love to be found in that stance. Sorry, I’m not ridiculous for taking such a person at his word or thinking it’s cruel. He is punishing a pet for his irresponsibility as an owner. I assume you’re referring to Trump with your last sentence? If so, I am absolutely no fan or defender, but Trump’s presidency has not erased all of the other bad behavior in the world. There’s no relevance.

        • Maybe. I hope you’re wrong. It would be nice if this dog-owner could comment on his true intentions.

  6. The owner, not the dog is at fault. If you have a dog, it is your responsibility to make sure they cannot run loose. If you do not have a fenced yard, and your dog stays inside and it is your responsibility to walk your dog, on a leash, a minimum of three times a day. With a few short ones in the early am and last thing at night for a quick pee. Regular visits to a dog park, (especially if it is a large, high energy dog) so he can run hard at least once a week is also recommended. If he has been properly socialized which again is the owner’s responsibilty. You don’t just get a dog and let him out into the yard all day while you are at work.Dogs need attention and time. If you can’t put that in, don’t get a dog. And certainly, don’t get a huskie! Huskies are a handful and they are high energy on steroids! Huskies don’t like confinement and are notorious escape artists. They are one of the most difficult breeds to manage, and most people, especially unskilled dog owners find themselves in over their heads and unprepared for what can happen when a huskie ( or any number of dog breeds are left alone( i.e. neglected) for long periods of time. This dog got bored, cleverly escaped and his instincts kicked in to kill that chicken. He was just being a dog. The owner is the problem. Just the fact that he said he would ” kill the dog” shows you the mentality behind this. That is a total copout. As a former dog handler and trainer, I strongly recommend Mr. Hayden surrender the dog to a reputable shelter or Huskie Rescue who will assess his temperament and adopt him out to a suitable new home that is an appropriate match. If Mr Hayden wants to get along with the community he needs to do what is best for the DOG, and not himself.
    Ms Riggs has suffered the loss of her beloved pet because of Mr Hayden’s lack of control of his dog. Hopefully, this dog will be adopted out to some Huskie lover who has the skillfulness to handle him. Mr Hayden needs to do what’s best for the dog and give him up.

    • Why wasn’t chicken fenced?
      How was the chicken owner protecting her chicken from foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons and hawks?

      • They’ve closed in at night, which is when most of those predators tend to be on the hunt.

  7. Hey, people, this shouldn’t be all that difficult. My current dog is a malamute. My last dog was a malamute. The dog before that was half-malamute. Can you tell I like malamutes, and northern-breed dogs in particular? However, northern-breed dogs should not be running loose where they might encounter fowl or livestock, and IMO that includes virtually all of Martha’s Vineyard. Siberian huskies are most definitely northern-breed dogs. As my northern-breed-loving friends say, these guys have a reliable (off-leash) “come” — until they don’t. When there’s potential prey involved, they won’t. Catching a chicken is far more rewarding than whatever you give them for coming when called. Yes, accidents happen. I had one with my young dog this past April. Fortunately nothing bad happened, i.e., he didn’t kill anything and I caught up with him before anything killed him. But it really isn’t about whether you like dogs or not. If you’ve got a northern-breed dog, or any dog with a high prey drive, don’t let them off-leash except in enclosed areas, OK? You can do this. If you can’t, well, maybe your dog needs another home.

  8. If anyone knows the owner, please encourage him to contact this rescue. If they cannot help, they will probably know who can, and many rescues arrange for volunteer transport if that’s an issue.

    • I’ve seen hundreds of dogs placed without this happening. There are trainers who specialize in handling cases tougher than what this one sounds like, and rescues network and are pretty good about locating the right person and foster for the job. It is absolutely worth a try.

    • That may be true of truly aggressive dogs, but good rescues take great pains to match each dog with the right home. Up-thread someone mentioned a greyhound who wasn’t good with young children but was rehomed with a couple who didn’t have kids. A dog who is “difficult” because s/he doesn’t get enough exercise will do better with a more active owner. And so on.

  9. So, what happened? It’s Sunday. Did he kill his dog, put up a fence Or surrender her for adoption? Anybody know?

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