The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission unanimously approved a new policy banning dogs in areas where the organization’s goats graze.
According to a staff memorandum, there have been two separate incidents when a “loose and uncontrolled” dog leaped into a fenced-in area where goats were grazing. The attacks occurred at Sweetened Water Preserve in Edgartown and Tisbury Meadow Preserve. Eight goats suffered “visible bite wounds” as a result, requiring veterinary care.
In both instances, the dogs were unleashed and the owners were present, and then left the grazing areas without calling an animal control officer or notifying Land Bank staff. The dog owners were found with the help of animal control officers to confirm the dogs were vaccinated for rabies.
During a Monday meeting, Land Bank goatherd Zachary Jesse said while the dog owners were found, neither offered to cover veterinary bills. Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said staff plans to ask for reimbursements from the owners.
Staff recommended that signs be put up prohibiting dogs from the immediate goat-grazing areas when the activity is taking place. Notifications would also be posted online on the Land Bank website and social media.
“It is our understanding that the town [animal control officers] will recommend a dog be put down as a nuisance animal if that dog kills livestock,” the memorandum reads. “The staff believes the change in the dog policy during grazing times will reduce the chance of further conflicts between dogs and the goat herd that could end poorly for both parties.”
If the signage does not work, the Land Bank would consider prohibiting dogs from the entirety of a property when the herd was grazing on it.
The Land Bank’s goat program began in 2015, and the herd replaced mechanical mowing during the summer. The goats chow down at various Land Bank properties on a rotational basis, munching away unwanted or invasive plants.
When commissioners asked about the goats’ well-being, Jesse said most of them sustained minor injuries, although a couple of the goats were more severely injured. Jesse said the goats were recovering.
Oak Bluffs commissioner Kristen Reimann asked for more details about the plan, and Jesse clarified that how much of an area is closed off to dogs would depend on the Land Bank property the goats were grazing on. Jesse pointed to the nine-acre Chilmark Pond Preserve as an example of where an entire property could be shut down.
“We would have to just shut that one down,” Jesse said. “There’s not enough space.”
Signage was already in use at Land Bank properties telling dog owners to have their animals leashed near goat-grazing areas, according to Jesse.
Commission vice chair and commonwealth representative Wesley Mott said he was “disgusted” by the incidents. He later asked whether an introductory sign would be placed to let dog owners know about the leash requirement, expressing concern that a loose dog could come into the restricted area and cause damage.
“Too many dog owners, I think, have the principle of, ‘My dog is constantly under voice control,’ and we all know that’s a myth,” Mott said. “It’s a total misconception and self-deception for dog owners.”
Jesse said the plan is to have a “decent-size buffer” between the restricted area and where signage begins, and where the herd is grazing.
When Mott asked whether dogs have attacked the herd before, Jesse said he has had to fend them off before, and then tell owners to leash dogs or go elsewhere. “There’s been a few times I’ve been there and been able to prevent anything from happening,” Jesse said.
Commission secretary-treasurer and Tisbury representative Nancy Weaver pointed out that Tisbury Meadow Preserve already has a year-round leashed dog requirement. “It’s not working,” she said.
Lengyel said animal control officers would need to be consulted to determine what can be done about repeat offenders.
Commission chair and Chilmark representative Pamela Goff, who is also a farmer, asked if having a firearm would be a consideration, admitting the option was potentially “extreme” for the Land Bank. She pointed out that people have a right to defend their livestock under the law.
“I’ve had dog problems sometimes,” she said. “I don’t have what it takes to shoot, but would you consider keeping a shotgun in your truck if you had to intercept a dog?”
“I don’t think that would be necessary for what we have to do,” Jesse said, adding that animal control officers have also told him about this right. “We’re going to do everything in our power so that does not happen.”
The commission unanimously approved using signs telling people “dogs prohibited beyond this point,” wherever that may be, on a Land Bank property when goats are grazing.