Can anyone shoot your dog?

Andrew Wagstaff
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Resident seeks changes to Wildlife Act after pet goes missing

PARRSBORO – One local family is mourning the loss of their family pet, and seeking changes to the provincial Wildlife Act.
Karen Yorke-Gilbert’s dog Harley, a three-year-old Valley bulldog, has been missing for almost two weeks, and she has lost hope of ever seeing him again. In fact, she believes he was shot and killed.

Karen Yorke-Gilbert of Parrsboro is hoping to see changes to Nova Scotia's Wildlife Act, after her family dog Harley went missing recently. Harley was the father of Chumlee, seen here. 

However, rather than focus on what happened to him, she is putting her energy towards preventing another family from going through what hers did.

“As grieving as we are, I want to do something positive,” she said. “I just know he was a good dog, and had no inkling in his little body to chase a deer.”

Harley joined the Gilbert family in 2010 after they lost their cocker spaniel to cancer. Still heartbroken over that loss, she said she wasn’t ready for another dog, but her husband Billy wanted his own dog, and was interested in the Valley bulldog breed because of their reputation for being smart, loyal, and good with both the farm and family.

They located a breeder in Bridgewater and found Harley, who quickly fit in as a member of the family. Billy and daughter Sarah picked him up.

“They brought him home and I fell in love with him,” said Yorke-Gilbert. “Everybody fell in love with him because he had the greatest personality.”

The first thing they did with Harley was train him to be around the farm. When in the barn and around their horses, he would sit quietly, and was very well behaved, she said. They also installed an electric barrier fence all the way around the property to keep him from getting loose.

On the day he went missing, they had just returned from picking up a load of lumber. Yorke-Gilbert went inside to start supper, while Harley stayed outside as Mr. Gilbert unloaded the truck. To allow Harley to travel in and out of the barn, they removed his collar that reacted with the electric fence.

While making supper, she heard a gunshot.

“I didn’t think anything of it, because it’s hunting season,” said Yorke-Gilbert. “It didn’t cross my mind for a second. When supper was ready, Billy came in and said, ‘Where’s Harley?’”

Harley would rarely stray out of eyesight of his owners, and always came when called. But not this time. They called and searched, combing the nearby woods until 10 p.m., to no avail. They resumed their search at 5 a.m. the next morning.

Around lunchtime that day, they received a visit from officers from the local department of natural resources (DNR) office, claiming there had been an anonymous report of dogs chasing deer on a neighbouring property.

“I just started crying,” she said. “My dog has never been out chasing deer. He’s been out in our pasture while deer were grazing and never bothered them. He’s been trained to stay away from horses, and doesn’t run after deer. It’s never been an issue.”

Yorke-Gilbert does not believe Harley, who was only out of sight for 5-10 minutes, was chasing a deer. She believes someone shot him to protect their hunting area, knowing the Wildlife Act (Section 41-3) permits them to do so. The law states that, “any person can lawfully destroy a dog that is attacking a moose, deer or bear.”

And that is what she wants to see changed.

“I want it changed so you must call either the owner of the dog or DNR to report the dog chasing wildlife, so it can be dealt with by proper people responsible for following the law,” said Yorke-Gilbert.

That is already the course of action preferred by the local DNR office, according to conservation officer Shirley Sutherland.

“What we encourage is people report to us, 1-800-565-2224, to let us know whereabouts they see the animal, the description of the animal, which way it was traveling,” she explained. “We gather our information, go into an investigation, and backtrack to find the owner. We go the extra distance to explain to them about the responsibility of taking control over the dog and keeping it safe.”

Complaints of dogs attacking deer are not as common these days as in past decades, according to Sutherland, who said pet owners are generally more careful and responsible with their pets now.

“I haven’t experienced any incidents where dogs have been put down,” she said. “It tends to be a rare occurrence, and owners are more apologetic if a dog happened to escape that day.”

Yorke-Gilbert is not the only one who believes the Wildlife Act is in need of an update. She has also received support from Cumberland South MLA and Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie, who said he plans to include the measures in a legislative package aimed to protect pets from cruel and inhumane treatment such as “extreme tethering” and being left in hot cars for extended periods of time. He described the current law as “archaic.”

“Clearly, the law that says any person can shoot a dog for chasing deer is outdated, and needs to be fixed, so I will be taking her case to the legislature to do my best to get that changed,” said Baillie. “Our views on protecting animals and avoiding cruelty have evolved, and the law should reflect that.”

Twitter: @ADNandrew

Geographic location: Bridgewater

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Recent comments

  • Karen
    November 21, 2013 - 15:08

    It is never a good idea to allow any person with a gun to be judge, jury and executioner. Allow the proper authorities to do their job. People may have other motives and will lie about seeing a dog chasing wildlife. This law is a convenient scapegoat to hide behind. There should be an investigation process that is legal and fair. New Brunswick has changed their law, it's time for Nova Scotia to bring this archaic law up to date. Our dogs do not have to be innocent victims for anybody who may or may not have good intentions.

  • Randy
    November 20, 2013 - 20:35

    Dogs should be controlled. So should uncontrolled humans. We have a system that allows humans to correct their problems why cant dogs and owners. To shoot the animal and not tell the owners, well as far as I'm concerned they are cowards. If you have the gull to shoot the dog then step up and tell the reason why. I have a dog that walks out among my cattle. Now tell me he is chasing deer or other wildlife. First off you have to prove it, not kill it.

  • Kelly
    November 19, 2013 - 12:05

    Very torn about this. The dog wouldn't have been in a position to get shot if the people responsible for his care had taken steps to prevent him getting away. How about a bit of focus on the fact that it doesn't sound like their dog was properly contained? At the best of times, an invisible fence/shock collar are a false sense of security to the owner. Take that collar off, and it is even less. It is an owners opinion that their dog "would never" do this, this, or this, which is a worthless, bias opinion. If their dog had been properly supervised and/or properly contained, this incident never would have occured and they would still have their dog. At some point, people need to step up and take some responsibility for their own actions. This is a tragic incident, but THESE PEOPLE FAILED THEIR DOG. Period. And now they're in the media acting like the changing of a law would have somehow made that different or okay. If their dog had been properly supervised/contained, he wouldn't have been anywhere to get shot in the first place, if that's even what happened. They are even speculating on that. They are passing the buck BIG TIME here. An invisible fence is NOT a fence, point one. Point two, if you believe in it as a fence, you believe that the magic is held within the collar. Three, if you remove that collar, all bets are off. These people knowingly and willingly endangered their pet. I feel awful for the dog. But a change in a law will not change the habits of the irresponsible. Reread the article once again. "Only out of sight for 5-10 minutes?" Only? Really? How long do you think it takes for a dog to run off? And, clearly, he's been out of sight much longer than that, as he was left unattended and not seen since. The more I read, the less sympathy I have for the humans involved. Just awful for the dog, whatever happened. Fuming.

    • Dog lover
      November 20, 2013 - 09:40

      I could not agree MORE with "Kelly" and "Keep control". You as the dog owner are responsible for keeping your dog safe at ALL times. Wildlife should not have to suffer or be terrorized for someone's lack of common sense. Mind you, dogs are not running in the woods as often as they were years ago but it still happens. If your dog was shot in the woods (accident or not) or caught in a snare or trap then you are at fault for not keeping your dog home safe instead of having it run loose. Snares, traps and discharging a firearm have to be done so at quite a distance from a dwelling. So your most recent dog and any others that you may have lost or had injured while it was in the wild did or has suffered because of your negligence!!!

  • carla gould
    November 19, 2013 - 10:10

    someone shot my German Shepherd, in my horses' pasture, within sight of my house,in Maccan, several yrs ago. I was away at the brother found the dog and buried him , apparently my neighbor knew who was responsible but wouldn't say. you don't dare report some people in case they retaliate.

  • Keep control
    November 19, 2013 - 09:50

    Unfortunately, her dog was likely killed by coyotes. I am a dog lover and a dog owner, but you need to keep control of your animals. Being run to death by a domesticated dog is a cruel and needless death for a deer. As a hunter, if I witness a dog running a deer and could not scare it off I too would shoot it. If my dog was the one shot due to my negligence then the blame and guilt is on my. Don't blame someone else for your negligence

  • Elizabeth MacAulay
    November 18, 2013 - 20:17

    Thanks for bringing this forward for all to consider.

  • Michelle
    November 18, 2013 - 17:53

    So sorry to hear about Harley! I'm a valleybull owner myself and agree they are very loyal companions. My boy is 4 and I can't imagine life without him. God bless u all! I hope they change this law soon!!

  • sharonhayward
    November 18, 2013 - 16:03

    the person that shot the dog should have came and told them even if he lied to them and said he was chasing deer at least they know for sure and can bury him

  • Bill
    November 18, 2013 - 15:33

    I had a friend who shot his own dog for running in the woods. Keep your dog out of the woods and it should be safe. Go and look at pictures of what a dog can do to a deer and you would feel the same way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!