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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 4, 2010

“They were family,” owner says
Four domestic dogs kill pet goats in Altamont

By Anne Hayden 

ALTAMONT — The Burnes family, living on Leesome Lane in Altamont, lost two of its three pet goats on Monday afternoon, when four dogs allegedly attacked them in their pen. The third goat is injured, but may survive.

“My dogs have never bothered or harmed anyone,” Geoffrey  Brown, the owner, said. Conceding that it seemed likely that his dogs were the culprits, Brown, torn with emotion, said he wanted to offer his heartfelt condolences to the Burnes family.

Brown was issued an appearance ticket by animal control services and is scheduled to appear in Guilderland Town Court tonight, according to Rich Savage, director of Guilderland’s animal control services.

Jordan Burnes described the pen that was built for his African Pygmy goats — Rudy, Dude, and Elmo — just to the side of the driveway in front of his house. The fence is four feet high, and there is a shed in the pen to give the goats shelter. The goats, Burnes said, were almost like dogs, and the family would take them for walks down the lane whenever the weather was nice. The kids from Camp Wildwood, a camp for children with disabilities, would routinely visit the house over the summer to feed and pet the goats.

“They weren’t livestock. They were family,” said Burnes.

A spotlight that shines on the pen at night, to scare off coyotes, Burnes said. He never thought he would have to worry about domestic dogs, he said. But, around 2:30 on Monday afternoon, Burnes’s son arrived home from high school and saw four black dogs in the pen with the goats. According to Burnes, his son got out of his car to check things out, but, when he approached the goat pen, one of the dogs charged him; he got back in his car and dialed the police.

The son also called his father in a panic, and Burnes rushed home, arriving at the same time as the Guilderland Animal Control officers. The officers caught three of the dogs, but the fourth dog bolted.

Simon, the goat the Burneses had owned for 13 years, and Rudy, one of the pair of brothers they had owned for seven years, were dead, as was a pet rooster, which also lived in the pen. The second of the pair of brothers, Elmo, was badly injured. The high snow banks from the plows’ clearing the driveway allowed the dogs to get access to the pen, Burnes said.

Altamont and Guilderland police had also arrived on the scene and were able to run the rabies tags of one of the dogs to identify the owner, according to Captain Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police. They found that the dogs belong to Brown, who lives on Altamont-Voorheesville Road, on a 30-acre plot of land. The dog that had escaped the animal control officers had run back to Brown’s garage.

Brown told The Enterprise this week that the dogs had not been roaming free, but had escaped from his garage. He said he had been out searching for the dogs when he got the phone call informing him that the dogs were on Leesome Lane. The dogs, Labrador retriever mixes, had been kept in more than usual lately due to the heavy snow, he said, and they were probably looking for fresh air.

Neighbors on Leesome Lane said, after the attack on the goats, that they had seen the black dogs wandering the street nearly a week ago, said Brown. He felt they should have alerted the police or animal control at that point, he said, and the whole situation could have been avoided.

He described his 4-year-old female lab, the mother, and her three seven-month-old puppies, as “gentle as can be.”

Burnes said he felt that a pet owner was responsible for making sure its animals don’t harm anyone, or anything.

“It is sad that these dogs might be put down for this, and the owner should be held responsible on all levels,” Burnes said. “The dogs were just doing what dogs do.”

Pack mentality

Holly Cheever, a local veterinarian and a nationally known animal rights proponent, said the dogs clearly had a “pack mentality.” When dogs are roaming in a pack, they revert back to being predatory animals, following ancient instincts, no matter how domesticated they are, she said.

“You could have the sweetest, most gentle dog, that would never attack a person or another family pet, but when dogs get in a pack, they develop that mentality,” explained Cheever. It is only within the recent past that dogs have been used less frequently as hunters, she said, and, with millions of years of hunting evolution behind them, it is easy to fall back into a “blood frenzy.”

“It sounds like this was an accident, but it’s a good reminder to dog owners, especially owners of multiple dogs, to never let their dogs roam free,” Cheever said.

Savage said the four dogs are staying at the Guilderland Animal Shelter until Brown appears in town court tonight. He said the dogs seem nervous, but not aggressive, and are up-to-date on all shots.

Savage said Brown was ticketed for dangerous dog proceedings, under Article 7, Section 121, of the Agriculture and Markets law. If the dogs are classified as dangerous, depending on what the judge decides, they may have to be confined to the home, wear muzzles in public, and be micro-chipped with a statement declaring they are dangerous dogs. Brown will likely be ordered to pay the Burnes for damages.

The Burnes are just hoping that Elmo, the surviving goat, will pull through. He has received medication to treat his wounds, and Burnes said, as of Tuesday, Elmo was not able to stand up, but he was eating and drinking.

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