We all know what “worrying” mean as we do it every once-and-a-while. However, “worrying” also has another meaning sometimes referred to as “dog worrying.” As one dictionary starkly defines it, “to seize, especially by the throat, with the teeth and shake or mangle, as one animal does another,” “to harass by repeated biting, snapping, etc.,” “tearing to pieces [a] carcass.” Not only dictionaries but the law speaks about “dog worrying” and whether you own farm animals, tamed wild animals or dogs you should be aware of what these laws permit and do not allow.
Very early in Missouri’s statehood, since at least 1825, there has been dog worrying laws in our statute books. Today, there are three related statutes. First, R.S. Mo. § 273.020 states that:
“In every case where sheep or other domestic animals are killed or maimed by dogs, the owner of such animals may recover against the owner or keeper of such dog or dogs the full amount of damages and the owner shall forthwith kill such dog or dogs; and for every day he shall refuse or neglect to do so, after notice, he shall pay and forfeit the sum of one dollar, and it shall be lawful for any person to kill such dog or dogs; provided, however, that whenever in any case the facts shall show that in the worrying or killing, maiming or wounding of any said sheep or other domestic animals that the same was done by two or more dogs belonging to different owners, then the plaintiff, the person whose animals were killed, wounded or maimed, may at his or her election, join all of the owners of said dogs as joint [defendants] or may sue each one separately at his or her election.”
Just last year in a case from Oregon County called Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch, LLC v. Lange, a Missouri Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s argument he could not be held responsible for his dog killing whitetail deer on another’s property because the deer were wild, not domestic, animals. The court ruled the words “domestic animals” in the statute (R.S. Mo. § 273.020) were not limited to traditional domestic farm animals such as cattle, swine, chickens and horses but included any animals which had been domesticated by people so as to live in a tame condition. The aggrieved deer owner had breed bucks, does and fawns. His herd was all penned and was raised for their genetic ability to produce male offspring with extraordinarily large antler racks. The plaintiff’s breeder deers were valuable animals, some having sold well into the six-figure range.
Property owners and tenants cannot kill a dog simply because it is on their property; they saw the dog chasing or maiming their animals earlier or they later see that dog. For a killing of a such dog that has worried animals to be lawful it must happen when the dog is chasing, injuring or killing the animals or the animal owner discovers the dog or dogs under such circumstances which satisfactorily show that such dog or dogs had or had been recently engaged in chasing, injuring or killing the owners’ animals.
Demonstrating this rule of imminence is Propes v. Griffith from rural Clay County. Mr. & Mrs. Griffith had lost two sheep. Two days later Mrs. Griffith saw two dogs from a neighboring property on their land near her remaining sheep. The two were not bothering or barking at the sheep and there was no indication that any of these sheep had been injured. Mrs. Griffith was able to collect the dogs and took them to a veterinarian in a nearby town requesting they be put down. The veterinarian declined to do so believing the dogs were owned by the Griffiths’ neighbors. Mrs. Griffith then took the dogs to a veterinarian in adjoining county, completed paper work indicating she was the owner and consenting to the dogs being euthanized. In that paper work she stated that within the last 15 days the dogs had not bitten any person or animal. Later, the Propes found-out what had happened to their dogs and sued the Griffiths. The Griffiths argued they could not be held legally liable because what Mrs. Griffith did was allowed by R.S. Mo. § 273.030, quoted above. Neither the trial judge nor the appellate court agreed.
The appellate court noted there, “was absolutely no evidence indicating the Propes’ dogs… were the cause of the previous attack on the Griffiths’ sheep. Not only did Mrs. Griffith have absolutely no proof that dogs had been the cause of a previous attack on her sheep, but even more, the sheep were attacked again in a similar manner to the first attack a week after she had her neighbors’ [Propes’] dogs euthanized.” With such facts before it, the appellate court had no trouble affirming the judgment against the Griffiths because:
“Missouri’s common law holds that dogs are property and no one has the right to kill or harm them except for just cause. No one has the right to shoot a dog on his property merely for being there when the dog is not threatening imminent danger to the person’s property. In light of case law, it would be logical to conclude that the legislature did not intend for § 273.030 to allow a sheep owner [or other animal owners] to have an unlimited time frame in which to kill a dog found on his property, but rather, the purpose of the statute was to allow the landowner to kill the dog immediately while in the act of chasing so as to protect his or her sheep [or other animals] from the immediate danger the dog presented. …. The court believes the statute to require the immediate pursuit and immediate killing of the dog. Any other interpretation would lead to what happened here; an extended period of euthanasia shopping.”
Whether an owner of farm animals, tamed wild animals or dogs, if you have any questions about when a dog can be killed for chasing, injuring or killing animals you should not hesitate to  promptly consult with your lawyer.
Gregory M. Dennis is Legal Counsel for the Missouri and Kansas veterinary medical associations. He actively practices law in both Missouri and Kansas.


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