I recently had to stop at a neighbor’s house and talk to him about his dogs.
Now, understand, I love dogs. I have four of them: a border collie, a Saint Bernard, an American Staffordshire terrier (small pit bull), and Garris’ beagle. Yes, it’s an eclectic pack of canines, but they are each part of my family.
When I bought this place, we only had the beagle. He has a habit of running off when he has the chance. And, being a hound, his nose gets him in trouble. Before we had a pen for him, he would escape. I could tell when he was going to run. I’d let him outside to do his business, and he’d turn around and give me this look. Then, his little legs would start churning and a god-awful mix of howling and baying would come out of his throat.
No matter how hard or how long we called, he would be gone for hours. More than once, I figured he was dead: hit by a car or shot by someone. But so far, he has always gotten home. About a year ago, I started a new rule. Any time Cody has to go outside, he has to be on a cable. He can’t be in the pen with Brees, our Saint, because she beats him up. There is just something about him that sets her off. Twice, I thought she was going to kill him.
But I digress.
The day we started moving into this house, late 2014, an older black lab dog showed up at the back door, wagging her tail and acting like she belonged there. She didn’t have any tags. And she really wasn’t causing any problems. But I didn’t need someone’s dog around. So, I shooed her away and watched her waddle to the nearest neighbor to the north.
Day after day, she showed up. And day after day, we ran her home. Then her visits started becoming more sporadic, and I figured the neighbor finally clued in on the fact that his dog was becoming a pain.
Then, about a year ago, a second dog started showing up. Every morning. A black and white mix would be running through our pasture, or into our barn, or through the horse pens. Once, I even saw him clear over at our arena.
So many times, I started to call the neighbors about the dogs. But I didn’t want to cause a stink. I tried very hard to be neighborly. Until about two weeks ago.
Every morning, there is fresh dog poop at the door to my Quonset barn. I either have to step around the fresh pile of poo or scoop it up and get rid of it. Did I mention we already have four dogs? Have you cleaned up after four dogs, one being a large Saint Bernard?
The other day, I had had enough. In one week, the male dog had come into my barn, chasing my cats; he had gone into the grain room and pilfered a bag of treats, which he ate and left the bag outside the barn; he was in the horse pens. Again.
The same day, the old black dog was back at the house, doing her evacuations at my front door.
I had to go to town that day, so I stopped at the neighbor’s house on my way. He met me at the driveway. I’m guessing he heard me yelling at his dogs earlier, and he definitely was on the defensive.
But I smiled and kept the opening friendly. I told him I needed to talk about his dogs. I asked, “Were you aware that your dogs at my house all the time?”
He fired back with, “Were you aware that Garris throws rocks at my horse?”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. The horse he was speaking about is an old horse that was given to them by some friends. He’s very friendly and hangs out over the fence with our horses. In fact, when our horses go to the pasture to eat, this white horse cries and runs his pasture because he’s so lonely. Both Garris and I sneak him horse treats. And Garris even thought we should give him hay during the winter. I didn’t go that far, but my point is that Garris has always liked the horse and been concerned that he isn’t cared for very well.
I know my son is not perfect. But the idea of him throwing rocks at a horse just didn’t jive with who he is. He is a rodeo kid. His horses are his partners. And besides, there was no reason for him to throw rocks at this old horse.
But, after I regained my composure, I told the neighbor that I would talk to Garris. And if he did, indeed, throw rocks, I would put a stop to it. He told me he had video of the rock throwing and that his sons had both seen Garris doing that. I did tell him it didn’t sound like something Garris would do, but I said again I’d ask him and talk to him about it.
He then accused us of dumping things over the fence. Things like tin and fencing supplies and twine. He said he took pictures every time he had to ‘clean up our messes’. I reminded him that those things were on his property when we bought the place – three and a half years ago. I thought at the time, who would put a horse out in a pasture with rebar and tin and all sorts of garbage lying around. My horses would cut their feet in a heartbeat. And the ‘piles’ of garbage have sat on his property the entire time we’ve lived here. I probably have pictures of the garbage in the background of shots of the horses.
I don’t dump anything on my neighbors’ properties. And I get after my boys for leaving twine on the ground. We always hang up the twine we cut in the barn. And the weekend before I stopped, Garris and I had spent an entire afternoon picking up twine in one pasture that the previous renters had left. I always worry about horses eating bits of twine and getting an obstruction in their colons.And every month, something else pops up from under the ground. Something that we didn’t throw there. And I’m sure that’s what is happening at the neighbors: things are making their way up from the ground. Things that have been buried for possibly years. But it’s easier to blame someone else, especially if your dogs are being naughty and you want to shift the focus onto something else.
But I re-directed our conversation back to his dogs. I told him that his dogs were at my house, in my barn, and in with my animals. I told him that some of my horses were very expensive, letting him come to the conclusion that if his dogs caused any injury or death, he’d be shelling out a huge pile of money. Anyone who has ever bought a performance or rodeo horse knows just how much money goes into their training, feed, transportation, let alone the initial purchase price.
I asked him, nicely, to please keep his dogs at home.
Of course, he claimed that his dogs never left the place, ‘unless they’re chasing cats’. When I told him that they chased cats inside my barn, he just shrugged. And he claimed that the male dog ‘always’ went with him. And he asked me specifically when the dogs were at my place.
When I told him around ten o’clock that morning, he blamed his kids for not keeping an eye on the dogs. I really don’t care whose ‘fault’ it is that the dogs are wandering to my place. I just don’t want them there. I should explain that I have about 30 acres. He must have around 20 – plenty of room for his dogs to stay on his property.
He also said his dogs ‘would never chase horses’. Well, if they chase cats, they’ll chase horses. And once dogs start, it’s almost impossible to get them to stop chasing other animals. And I will not sit back and allow anyone’s dogs to run my horses around their pens or through the fence.
Then, he went into a ramble about how he and his wife had just divorced and how he was struggling. For a half hour, I listened to him tell me WAY more information about his life than I ever needed to know.
He promised he’d keep his dogs home, and I left. I honestly felt good about the stop. I hate confrontation and was dreading having to talk about the dogs. But I felt once he got his hackles smoothed back down, that it was a productive talk.
Four days later, both dogs were back at my place. The female was doing her duties. The male chased cats directly in front of me and into my barn. I picked up the biggest rock I could find and pelted him with it, yelling at him to get.
Now, I’m marking down on the calendar every time I see his dogs on my place. And I told Garris to start taking pictures if he sees them here.
I really don’t want a neighbor battle over this, but I really am tired of his apathetic attitude about his dogs. Too many people move out of town, buy a few acres, and then think everyone’s property is part of their dogs’ right to roam.
I don’t allow my dogs to run. I had a dog pen built the summer after I bought this house. By that time, we had the border collie and the beagle, and they needed to be outside. I spent money, hired a fencing company to put up a secure pen, and I have kept my dogs at home. (With the exception of our wayward beagle.) But the difference is, I don’t knowingly allow him to run free. And when he does escape, he gets his little hiney beat when he comes home.
Once, last summer, Brees and Hooey broke the chain on the dog pen gate. They got out while I was gone, but were in my field when I pulled in. As soon as they saw the truck, they ran to me. We fixed the gate, and they have not been out since.
One of the neighbor’s arguments was that my dogs were over at his house all the time. LIE. If Brees ever got out when his dogs were at my place, he would have dead dogs. She is very protective of her property and her people. Hooey goes out with me for chores, but he doesn’t leave my side. And Stella, the pit bull, doesn’t stray more than a few feet from the patio. (Her eyesight is compromised so she sticks close to her safety zone.)
I am done being neighborly about dogs. We are putting extra wire up along the fence this weekend, filling in the holes that his dogs keep sneaking through. And I’m contemplating getting a camera for the barn. But I know the next time I see his dogs in my horse pens, the sheriff will get a phone call. I’ve given the neighbor fair warning. I’ve been accommodating. I’ve been more than fair about this situation. When it comes to protecting my animals, I will be ruthless.
I do understand that dogs can get out. They can run off. They can get distracted. Like Cody. And if his dogs’ visits were simply occasional mistakes, I wouldn’t have said anything. But they are at my house on a daily basis. I’m within my rights to expect him to keep his dogs on his property.
There is a nuisance law in Montana that, in a nutshell, gives property and livestock owners the right to defend against nuisance dogs. Dogs that chase, harass, worry, or injure livestock can be killed by the livestock owner.
Now, I’m not a violent person. I have a gun, but I rarely shoot. I don’t like inflicting pain on anyone else – person or animal. But I will defend my horses against a nuisance dog. If I don’t, then who will? Most of my horses don’t like dogs and will strike at them. If they connect, my guess is that dog would end up dead.
And who knows? Maybe Brees will suddenly find her way outside the pen the next time one or both of these dogs visit. She might take care of the situation for me. Either those dogs will finally learn to stay home, or they might never make it home again.