Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Police & Fire

If dogs kill stock, public can get the bill

The going rate for a chicken killed by a dog is $5 these days, but Harry Barlos thought he could get a better deal.

Mr. Barlos, a Lucas County commissioner, is used to approving multimillion-dollar projects in his nearly two years on the job, but he wondered recently if $5 was too much to pay for dead chickens.

“I had six years as [Lucas County] clerk of courts, seven years as mayor of Maumee, and two years as a county commissioner, and this was the first time I was asked to pay for a dead chicken,” he said yesterday.

Under a long-standing state law, counties must compensate farmers for livestock killed by dogs.

While such claims are common in agricultural areas across Ohio, they are unusual for urban counties. In 10 years, Lucas County rarely has paid more than $100 or $200 annually under the law.

Mr. Barlos said the recent payment was a reminder that portions of the county remain agricultural.

“Sometimes you don't realize how much acreage you have in Lucas County until something like this happens,” he said.

Tom Skeldon, county dog warden, said the law was enacted years ago when counties were expected to keep wild dogs in check and were held accountable when dogs took down farm animals.

“I had a claim earlier this year over some eggs that were destroyed, but I told the person that we're only responsible after they're hatched,” Mr. Skeldon said.

After a claim is made that livestock has been killed, deputies must verify that a dog was responsible. Then they try to determine whose dog was responsible.

“If we find that a neighboring farmer's dog was responsible, then that farmer has to pay the damage. If not, it's up to the county [to pay],” Mr. Skeldon said.

After being surprised by the recent request for payment, Mr. Barlos asked if the county might get a better deal at a grocery store than paying $5 each for five chickens killed by a dog.

Mr. Skeldon advised that, yes, $5 a chicken is the going rate. Only “true market value” is paid for the animal, he said.

“We verify the value at a slaughterhouse and then the commissioners approve the payment,” Mr. Skeldon said. “We don't pay extra because the person says their animal had a special value because it was used for show purposes.”

Paula Hamman, who is Wood County dog warden, said the most recent expenditure was a payment last year of $13 for rabbits that were killed.

“About 15 years ago or so we probably paid out $4,000 to $5,000 a year, but recently there have been very few payments,” she said.

Ms. Hamman said one of the factors in reducing the cost has been a change in state policy that calls for the state to pay through the Ohio Department of Agriculture for livestock killed by coyotes. Counties were once responsible for those claims, she said.

She added that she has “two deputies who are excellent at tracing dogs back to their owners.”

Her office gets about 20 complaints each year and usually locates the dog's owner. Once the owner is determined and the farmer who lost an animal is notified, the dog warden's office has done its job.

Mr. Skeldon's brother, Peter Skeldon, is the dog warden in Fulton County. Commissioners there pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 in claims each year.

Peter Skeldon said one of the largest claims occurred last year when a Fulton County farmer had 13 sheep and 20 lambs killed. The total cost was about $3,000.

He said if livestock is fenced away from where people might see the area for a day or two, dogs can cause a large amount of damage if they get into the enclosure.

“They might not all be slaughtered, but we have to pay when they are run to death, too,” he said.

Pat Forsyth, dog warden for Sandusky County, said when she began with the office more than 20 years ago, claims “probably averaged about $4,000 a year, but there have been a lot less recently.”

“I know there was a time when cattle were put down,” she said.

Ms. Forsyth said one of her deputies had recently been investigating a killing of 38 chickens to try to determine which dog or dogs might be responsible.

She said killing livestock is usually the work of more than one dog.

“We got to a barn once where a farmer had been having animals killed, and we scared off about four dogs who were headed there. They took off down a tractor road, and we followed them,” she said.

“One by one they just went off to houses one after another down the road,” she said. “It was like a lot of young boys going home after playing.”

Ms. Forsyth said her office wasn't able to prove those dogs had killed any farm animals, she but warned the dogs' owners that they would be liable for any damages.

“There weren't any more problems,” she said.

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