Today I had to kill a wild dog.
Julia called me at work and said that she found a big grouping of feathers behind the coop and some tracks. She counted the chickens and came up one short. She was worried that something killed one of the chickens.
This is something that upsets me. We take great pride in our care of the chickens. I tell my girls all the time that happy chickens lay happy eggs. They take care of us, provide for us and we have a responsibility to care for them and protect them. We try to teach the girls that the chickens must be put up in their coop with gates latched before dark. There are things that go bump in the night for chickens and we have to protect them. Some time ago, our oldest girl (who normally does a great job with the chickens) waited too long to put them up. The bad news is that we found an opossum under the coop. The good news is that this was the egg stealing bandit we’d suspected. My daughter and I went out and fished the rodent out and I shot it. I hesitated and it nearly got away. In the end, I had to kill it.
Nonetheless, this was different. I came home and changed clothes, got my gun and pushed the loaded magazine home. I walked out to the coop and found the smattering of feathers Julia told me about. I knew right then that it wasn’t just a fluke. There were paw prints, too big for a fox, and just a little bigger than a coyote. Beside the paw prints were claw marks, from a chicken trying to survive. I followed that prints around the fence outside the coop. There were more prints and more claw marks in the snow.
Following the paw prints, I made my way around toward the paddock and back toward the corn field behind our house. There were scrapes before the paw prints as though something was keeping the animal from walking a full gate. I walked in the corn field behind the paddock toward the back corner of our property. I saw claw marks, small drops of blood, and more feathers. At the very corner of the property I found the body of one of our Buff Orpingtons. We don’t know which one it was. It might have been Squaters, Jessica, Water Drinker, but we don’t know. It had been completely disemboweled. Whatever killed it hadn’t even had the decency to eat as much as possible.
I tracked the animal through the corn field behind our property. At several points the tracks split off, and I followed watching multiple sets. I noticed, eventually, that one set of tracks was coming and one set was going. I followed the paw prints through the field and I saw in the distance a dark mound lying in a patch of grass. As I approached, still following the tracks, I found a dark red haired dog asleep. I yelled at it, waking it up. It growled. I asked it if it killed my chicken. It growled again. I took two steps and asked it why it killed my chicken. It didn’t answer.
The dog stood up and took a few steps to the east. I tracked its movements. It watched me and I watched it. We walked together for another two tenths of a mile. There was a bloody mass on the side of its head and its tail was matted with fecal matter and completely immobile because of it.
I walked, it walked. It growled, I asked questions. The cold was getting to me. It turned toward the woods, limping, growling, limping, struggling. It turned to look at me. I pulled out my gun. I hesitated. I wanted permission. It killed our chicken. It was cold, injured and desperate. I raised my gun and fired. It yelped and I fired again and again until it stopped.
Killing, no matter the reason, no matter the justification, no matter the whys and the wheres, should cause one to stop and think. It should cause one to hesitate, to pause. If we believe Colossians 1, then God is reconciling all of creation to himself through Christ Jesus and that includes that which does violence upon those we love.
Thankfully, that also includes me. I did violence to that feral dog. I don’t feel guilty, but it caused me pause. This is a part of living in creation and partnering with God in the reconciliation of creation.