LAKESIDE — Abandoned dogs that become feral and wandering in packs are killing livestock according to two Navajo County homeowners.
Dr. Steve Washburn had been starting an alpaca business with a fenced-in three-acre area at his 15-acre spread and thought his virtually impregnable fences were fairly protective of his 16 alpacas and one llama; unfortunately, this was not the case.
Awakened at about 5 a.m., on the Dec. 29, Washburn and his wife heard their dogs barking, but didn’t really check it out. “I thought the alpacas were fairly secure, but we went out and gave the dogs some snacks, but they continued barking,” said Washburn. He now, of course, regrets not checking out why his own dogs were barking, because he had to take out his handgun and kill the two husky-mix dogs he found in the process of killing seven of his 16 alpacas and severely wounding another.
Two feral dogs had managed to push their heads through a small opening around a fence to get into the alpaca pen on Washburn’s property. Washburn estimated the opening was only two or three inches between the fencepost and the fence, but he could see where they pushed through to get in. Washburn said he could see where the dogs had been circling the spot to enter and then got to his animals and went on a killing spree.
Washburn called his friend, Veterinarian Dr. Ole Alcumbrac of White Mountain Animal Hospital, who came over to help Washburn — who is an orthopedic surgeon himself — stitch-up and care for the injured animals. Five alpacas were killed outright and Washburn found another two that were so badly hurt they had to be put down. One of the animals had one of its ears torn off. Another’s skin was ripped open badly.
“We stitched up one of them and it seems to be doing OK and looks like it might make it,” said Washburn, sounding stunned. “It hasn’t been a good Christmas. Alpacas are so vulnerable to feral dogs,” he said. “Being feral dogs, they were just killing to kill, not just to kill and eat as a normal wild animal would do.”
Navajo County Sheriff’s deputies and a county animal control unit were called to the scene and one of the dead dogs was found to have a microchip implanted, so the owner will hopefully be identified. “I had to tell the sheriffs when I called them, not to be alarmed if they heard shooting when they arrived,” said Washburn. Deputies arrived about 20 minutes after the dogs were shot and Washburn isn’t sure if there were other dogs involved, he only saw the two that got in. “If they are successful in killing, they’ll be back, so I hope those are the only two.”
Sadly, this is not the first and it won’t be the last story of animals running loose.
Washburn’s neighbor, Bill Berlat, said the dogs came onto his ranch first and killed about 18 of his chickens and some turkeys. He said his gate is not a slider, but a swinger, so with the snow, it didn’t shut all the way. He then called the dead chickens and turkeys by their names — reflecting on how close he was to his animals.
“Now I wish I would have gone out there with my gun, but I just saw a couple of dogs and ran them off. Then I began seeing my dead chickens everywhere.” Berlat, 81, says he has a lot to handle on his ranch and was dealing with the huge snowfall over the holiday.
“I think it would be appropriate to give people some notice about this and what to look out for,” he said. Berlat also has alpacas but they were not harmed, possibly because the chickens and his favorite, a bourbon red turkey named “Travis,” were easier targets for the dogs. Travis’ partner, “Bud” survived the ordeal because he was locked inside an enclosure for the incoming weather. He also lost his favorite rooster and a bunch of laying hens.
“The five alpacas were fine, I call them my ladies,” Berlat said. He has names for all of his animals. “For us, this was kind of a tragic end of the year.”
Berlat said the dogs didn’t look like the typical feral dogs you’d expect. “They looked fairly healthy and well-fed, one of them had a chip, so I hope they find the owners. People need to be accountable for this. People need to know that it is criminal to let dogs like that run loose. They also need to realize that their dogs are likely to be shot. We’re going to go after them for our losses. We aren’t after a fortune, but the owners are going to pay for our losses.”
The Navajo County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that one of the dogs was chipped, but said, so far they have not located the owner or owners, but continue to work the case.
Washburn said this is happening too often and worries about children’s safety. He noted that someone he knows in Pinetop Country Club had two horses and a couple of alpacas killed several months ago by a pack of feral dogs bordering the reservation. Washburn also has a friend out in Vernon who had an attack on four of his alpacas about four or five months ago as well.
Berlat added that there was also a child killed by dogs such as these several years ago and worries about it happening again. Washburn has filed charges for his losses.
In a press release about the incident, Sheriff KC Clark reminded the public that Navajo County has a dog ordinance in place which requires dogs within Navajo County to be on a leash or inside a completely fenced yard at all times. Owners of dogs killing livestock, pets, property or people can be held liable for the damage, death, or injury inflicted upon others.