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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 24, 2009


Sorrow and outrage follow news that Mocha and Rocky were shot

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — Hilltown residents remain riled after two East Berne dogs were shot and killed last week. No arrests have been made.

“These weren’t wild animals. They were loved pets,” said Undersheriff Craig Apple, with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. “To shoot them for no reason is horrendous and despicable.”

Amy Tubbs describes her dogs as members of her family. “We got Mocha seven years ago as a puppy. I got her when my daughter went away to college,” said Tubbs.

A chocolate Labrador retriever, Mocha was a laid-back dog. Tubbs’s son and husband made a game of asking each other what Mocha was doing. The answer: “She’s a-hokin’ and a-pokin’.”

A year later, they got Rocky, an Alaskan malamute. She was nicknamed “the flump” because of how her hair fell. “They immediately bonded,” said Tubbs of the two dogs. “They were as tight as can be. One was never without the other. They were wonderful animals, the perfect house dogs — loveable and friendly.”

A reward of $1,000 has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who killed the dogs.

While Apple said he was “not at liberty” to reveal the name of the donor, he described the donor as a Westerlo resident, “an extremely concerned citizen, at wit’s end that somebody could do such a despicable act.”

Tubbs reported on Tuesday that a neighbor is adding another $1,000 for information leading to an arrest. “I don’t know if it will help the investigation but it sure points to the willingness of people to help,” stated Tubbs.

 “Devastation has reached all of us as to why something as tragic as this could happen,” writes Mary Whipple of Schoharie in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to is shocked that someone would shoot a dog,” said Berne’s supervisor, Kevin Crosier.

“Our dog ran away last weekend because we had fireworks,” continued Crosier, who owns two golden retrievers. “The dog came back two days later. We got calls from residents worried our dogs had been shot as well.”

Cheryl Baitsholts, the dog control officer for Berne, said of the slain dogs, “People just can’t believe it.” Last Friday, she got a call from someone whose dog was gone overnight and he was worried it had been abducted and shot. “I found the dog — a good dog with a collar and tags,” she said, but the owner had been devastated. “He was getting really worried,” she said.

Amy Tubbs said simply, “It’s very hard for me to go home.”

“My dogs wouldn’t go far”

When Tubbs let her dogs out on Saturday morning, Sept. 12, she had other things on her mind. She had just become a grandmother when her daughter gave birth two days before.

“I let them out every morning for 10 or 20 minutes,” Tubbs said. “They stick close to home and come back.”

But on Saturday, they didn’t come back. Tubbs went out looking for them before running errands.

By 3:30 p.m., the dogs still hadn’t returned, so she called the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. “I didn’t know who else to call,” she said.

Tubbs scoured the countryside, figuring her dogs couldn’t have gone too far. They always stuck together and the Lab, Mocha, had had two knee surgeries.

Monday morning, Sept. 14, when Tubbs was at her job as a house principal at Farnsworth Middle School, deputies from the sheriff’s department came to her East Berne home. “They told my husband our dogs had been found on a trail three miles from the house. They were found down a dirt road — dead,” she said. “They had been found on Saturday evening by a hiker or biker.”

Tubbs lives off of Woodstock Road, on the East Berne-Westerlo border. The dogs were found on Cole Hill off of Willsey Road.

When the deputies came to her place of work on Monday, she said, “I couldn’t handle looking at pictures…I said, ‘My dogs wouldn’t go that far.’

“All my neighbors knew my dogs,” Tubbs said, but she has an “inkling” that two of them were not pleased with her dogs. Of a neighbor who keeps horses, she said, “I have a suspicion they may have gotten angry the dogs were on their property.”  The other neighbor kept chickens and, she said, “Rocky did bring home a chicken one day.”

She also said, “I hope they’ll prosecute,” and hold the person who shot her dogs accountable.

“If my dogs wandered on someone’s property and they got pissed off, I can kind of understand it.” But, Tubbs said, if it’s a random act of violence, which could lead to other such acts, the perpetrator needs to be caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

“In cold blood”

This is only the second time in his 20 years with the sheriff’s department that Apple has seen a criminal investigation for a killed animal. The first was also for a shot dog.

Necropsies were performed on Tubbs’s dogs, which revealed they were shot at close range with what appears to be buckshot.

Police believe the dogs were taken, rather than wandering away on their own, said Apple, because, during the necropsy “Quite honestly, a piece of a leash was revealed as a result of being shot. It was forced inside the animal [the malamute].” The dogs had not been on leashes when they were let out of Tubbs’s house, he said.

Asked about the neighbors that Tubbs mentioned, Apple said, “Everybody has been interviewed.” No arrests have been made.

Asked if, based on the investigation so far, he thought it was a random act or a neighbor who was angry with the dogs, Apple said, “It could be either…It would be tough for me to speculate.” It would make no difference in the prosecution, he said. “It’s a sick individual, to shoot them in cold blood.”

Laws

Buster’s Law would apply to the perpetrator because the animals were pets, said Apple.

A 1997 arrest — where an 18-month-old tabby cat had been doused with kerosene and burned to death by a Schenectady teen — led to the state legislature passing Buster’s Law, which created the felony category of “aggravated cruelty to animals,” punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The town of Berne adopted a “dog control law” in 1994 that states, “Dogs are to be under the control of their owner or a responsible person able to control them by command and shall not be permitted to run at large. Dogs hunting in the company of a hunter or hunters shall be considered as accompanied by their owner.”

The law goes on to list forbidden behavior such as habitual loud howling, uprooting lawns and gardens, harassing people, chasing cars or cyclists, and defecating or urinating on property other than the owner’s.

If someone files a complaint under oath, the dog’s owner must appear in town court, which can result in a fine. Also, the town’s dog control officer can seize dogs violating the law.

“On behalf of all of our members, we have never enforced that,” said Apple of the dog control law in Berne. “The Hilltowns are a rural area. Most everyone knows everyone. They will call if they find a lost dog and see that it gets back to its owner…If a dog wanders on your property, it doesn’t give you the right to shoot it.”

“To me,” said Baitsholts, Berne’s dog control officer, “if a dog is running, it’s not safe.” Given the current situation after the shooting of Tubbs’s dogs, she said, “It’s like somebody murdering children; you don’t want your kids out on the street.”

“Out here, neighbors are a long way apart,” said Crosier. “People’s dogs usually stay on the farm.”

In the eight years he’s been supervisor, Crosier said, “I haven’t had any dog issues.”

He also said, “I’ve hunted deer my whole life. I’ve caught dogs running deer. I’ve shooed them off. Killing is a last, desperate act.”

The state’s Agriculture and Markets Law allows dogs chasing deer to be killed only if the municipality has enacted a quarantine because it is “suffering sever depredation due to dogs attacking, chasing or worrying deer.”

Otherwise, state law allows someone to kill a dog if it is attacking or threatening a person or if it is attacking a companion animal, farm animal, or domestic animal. Baitsholts pointed out that this doesn’t mean a farmer can kill a dog later in retribution; it must be shot while in the act.

If a dog is attacking a farm animal and it can’t be shooed away, Crosier said, “What recourse does he [the farmer] have?”

“We had a beagle kill 25 beautiful Rhode Island Red laying chickens in one day,” he said. “It was my Dad’s dog.”

Even the Australian shepherd, Elsie, owned by the dog control officer used to chase her chickens. Elsie is two now and has been trained to herd rather than chase the chickens, said Baitsholts.

She pointed out a shortcoming in the law: It doesn’t require that the farmer shooting the dog to report it. “If I hit a dog,” said Baitholts, referring to a car accident, “I have to report it.”

Baitsholts went on, “A real farmer would stand up for himself and say, ‘Your dog was in my sheep. Here’s your dog.’

“A year ago spring,” she said, “two dogs were in a Preston Hollow barn” where sheep were kept. The dogs were attacking the sheep so the woman who owned the barn called on a neighbor who shot at them. One dog was killed and the other dog fled.

The runaway dog was found two weeks later; the bullet had grazed its underbelly. The owner was taken to court and agreed to put the dog down, said Baitsholts.

Licensing dogs started in New York State, she said, because farmers were upset about wandering dogs that did damage; the money from the licenses was to pay for repairs.

Baitsholts doesn’t think the Agriculture and Markets Law applies to the shooting of Tubbs’s dogs. “I don’t think this has anything to do with her dog once getting a chicken,” she said.

The only other dog shooting Baitsholts was aware of in Berne was in 2007. Two investigators from the sheriff’s department and an Albany City Police officer went to clear a crop of marijuana and were surprised the grower was there with his dog. A roughly 100-pound mixed-breed dog latched onto the arm of the Albany City Police officer, the police chief at the time, James Tuffey, said, and a sheriff’s investigator took another officer’s 40-caliber handgun and shot twice at the dog. The dog wasn’t ordered to attack, Tuffey said, but, rather, “reacted.” The dog died and an officer’s thumb was damaged.

Baitsholts said that each year she finds 10 to 15 lost dogs in Berne and another 10 to 15 in Rensselaerville. (The Enterprise runs about a dozen free ads a year for Baitsholts, publicizing the dogs she has found.) Baitsholts lives in Rensselaerville and has been the dog control officer there for 14 years. The lost dogs stay on her property. She has been Berne’s dog control officer for three years.

“Sometimes dogs evaporate into no-man’s land,” said Baitsholts “There is so much woods here.” Other times, someone will find a lost dog and just take it in and keep it, she said.

When Baitsholts learned that Tubbs’s dogs were shot, she said she couldn’t sleep and felt sick to her stomach. “We’ve never had an abduction and murder here,” she said. She sent Tubbs a sympathy card.


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