Dogs Running at Large

irresponsible owners

This is a post I received complaining about an irresponsible Bouvier owner who allows his two Bouvier to wander the neighborhood. That is totally UNACCEPTABLE behavior for any dog owner. I really shouldn't have to say this.
I do have the author's permission to use her post. She did not say whether or not to include her name, so at this time I am not doing so (except for the first name, which I may or may not have modified.). My responses will follow her post ; these responses are expanded somewhat from my original reply to her.

Dogs Running at Large

Kat's complaint :

Hi Pam you do not address the issues of Bouvier owners letting their Bouvier's escape constantly and the Bouviers come to neighbors' homes and chase neighbors' cats , which are on their own property and deck - under the deck. The Bouvier owners answer is "our bouviers are herding dogs and escape artists they like to run - they'll come home when they're tired and thirsty".

I was looking up if the Bouvier would kill a cat. I am not sure but does your website insist on people keeping their Bouviers on their own property as THEIR responsibility? You address if a cat comes into their (the Bouvier's yard) but you do not address if Bouvier owners are being irresponsible and letting their dogs escape on a regular basis and roam (like a pack). What if these dogs kill my cat on my property? (hasn't happened yet is the Bouvier owner liable?) what if these Bouviers attempt to come into my house? This has happened...

I just feel this is an issue that Bouvier owners need to understand as not acceptable regardless of any "herding instincts".


my response :

Kat, you are right that I don't address this explicitly, probably because keeping your dogs confined to fence or leash is so basic a responsibility and is so amply stated in every book on dog care that I really didn't think I had to repeat this well known advice. I do address the issues of keeping dogs home in the article "DO Fence Me In !!" which is in the Dog Care section, and in the article on "Escape Artist Dogs" , which is in the Problems section. These articles do state that the owner's responsibility to the dog to keep the dog safe , but the discussion is primarily about how to accomplish this. I don't really emphasize the dog owner's duty to the general public to keep the dog from being a problem to them.

I do address cats to some extent in the updated version of "Don't Buy a Bouvier", which is in the Bouvier section. There is no question that a Bouvier is physically capable of killing a cat with ease and speed, and many Bouvs are likely to prey chase cats. Some Bouvs can live with cats peacefully but some cannot. Now many other breeds are even more likely to kill a cat. As a group the Terriers are probably the most likely, as they are bred to kill mammalian prey , ranging from rodents to foxes, badger, etc. So a cat would be considered prey by most Terriers. The Hounds are also bred to pursue and kill mamalian prey, though mostly herbivore prey. All the herding historied breeds have a fair degree of predatory chase instinct ; herding is a modified predatory behavior with the actual seize and kill part somewhat weakened or supressed.

It's NOT an excuse that "these dogs are herding dogs." Indeed, because they are indeed herding dogs it is extra important to keep them confined (fenced) or leashed in any area where they might encounter livestock. Also herding dogs usually have a high degree of prey chase instinct, ie to chase anything that is moving. So Bouvs need to be well controlled around such moving creatures as joggers, skateboarders, bicyclists, and moving vehicles. Likewise of course horses being ridden or driven, as well as horses in pasture or paddock. The Bouv may want to chase these or may want to run around to the front to make the moving creature turn around. This is very dangerous to the person being chased or herded and to the dog himself. A dog trying to stop and turn a pickup truck is not likely to survive the attempt. Keep the dog on leash or get him back on leash the instant one of these temptations shows up..

Every dog owner has responsibilities !!! The owner has the responsibility to the dog to keep the dog safe. The owner also has the responsibility to the public to keep the dog from being a nuisance or a danger to others. That means keeping the dog at home, inside house and adequately fenced yard, and keeping it on leash in most situations away from home.

You are of course totally right that every dog owner or custodian MUST keep their dog confined or on leash, except of course at dog parks. For the very well trained dog there may be other appropriate places to be safely off leash, such as rural areas without livestock temptations. To be off leash anywhere except at dog park requires a pretty high level of training, and of course the owner / handler must be present to supervise and control the dog by verbal or hand cues and to put the dog back on leash the instant a potential problem appears on the horizon.

You are absolutely right that it is irresponsible to let any dog escape repeatedly.The first time the dog escapes the owner might not have known ahead of time that the dog will try to escape or that the fencing has any flaws. Of course it's possible that someone else opens the gate (which ideally would be kept locked) or that a falling tree limb or car smashes down the fence (I personally know of cases where this has happened), and that's not really the owner's fault. Once it is known that a dog has escaped one time, the owner should act with immediate diligence to prevent future escapes.

It's even more irresponsible to just turn the dog loose deliberately. That may have been a way of life 50 or 60 years ago in small towns, but a lot of dogs suffered serious injuries even then and any livestock chasing dog was killed instantly and without mercy. Those "My Dog Skip" days are gone for good - - - and if you read the book, you'll see that at one point Skip got shut into a refrigeratior and would have died if his boy had not found him barely in time, and another time Skip seemes to have eaten something toxic and barely survived..

ANY dog , ANY dog, ANY dog can be injured or killed when running at large without human surpervision and control. ANY dog can injure another animal or person. ANY dog can eat something toxic. There are so many reasons why it's irresponsible to let a dog roam..

As far as breeds that are good at escaping, well you have to know your breed's propensities. Terriers dig, so might dig their way out. Basenjis can climb almost as well as a cat, so might climb a fence that would hold a larger dog easily. A healthy young to midde aged Bouv can easily jump a 4 ft fence and some can jump or scale a 5 foot fence with a bit of effort ; not likely to scale a 6 ft fence, though physically able to do so (my Bones could scale over 6 feet on command at Police dog trials, but wouldn't have done it on his own just for fun). So your fencing has to take your dog's abilities and propensities into account. For the extreme escape artist dog, confinement to the house except for supervised yard outings and on leash walks could be necessary. Alternatively a kennel run with locked gate, cement floor that prevents dig out, and with a roof that prevents climb out could be used for times the dog must be outdoors unsupervised. (While I absolutely hate dogs being confined to a kennel run as a way of life, there's nothing wrong with using a run for escape proof potty breaks or play times or other short term use. And in rescue work, sometimes one has to keep a foster dog in a run if that dog cannot get along peacefully with other pets.)

As to the legal aspects, the owner of a trespassing dog who comes into your yard and kills or injures your cat would be held civililly liable. So the owner could be made to pay vet bills or market value of the dead cat. Vet bills can be high, but market value of most cats is not high. On proof of many prior escapes or of the owner deliberately turning the dogs loose, you might well get punitive damages, which can get as high as needed to inflict financial pain on the guilty party. However you do have to prove that the killing took place on your property, not on the dog's owner's property, and sometimes that would not be so easy. Let's say the dog carries the dead body back to his home, or just carries it off of your property to some neutral place. Or maybe the dog's owner finds the body before you do and makes it disappear.

This would be a case for Small Claims Court, where you would be presenting your own case. You would need to document every aspect of your case and make sure that the essential witnesses attend and testify. Alternatively, it would be a case very well suited to Judge Judy.

Regardless of whether or not you would legally be able to sue and win damages, your unfortunate cat would still be dead and nothing would bring her back to life. This brings us to the need to discuss your responsibility to your own cats to protect them from dangers , especially this danger that you know exists for them.

The above relates to the responsibilities of the dog's owner. But the cat owner has responsibilities too. Every cat owner has the responsibility to the cat to keep the cat safe from harm and has the responsibility to the public to keep the cat from becoming a nuisance or danger to others. That means keeping the cat home, either inside the house or in an escape proof outdoor cat run, and keeping the cat on leash or in a carrier in most away from home situations.

Bottom line for any cat owner is , of course, that since fences are not really a barrier to cats, don't really confine the cat inside his owner's yard, if an owner really cares about the safety and welfare of the cat, that cat will be kept indoors only or the owner will build some kind of escape proof (ie roofed over) outdoor cat yard, such as a dog kennel run with a solid or chain link roof on it. A not very active or agile cat could be outdoors when vigilantly supervised by a responsible person so as to prevent the cat from leaving the yard, but I have known many many cat owners who tell me that their cat "always stayed inside our yard" for many months or even years, but then one day the cat got more adventurous and was over the fence ; one day the cat did not come back and was never seen again.

Keeping your cat safe from loose dogs in the neighborhood means that you do what you need to do to keep the dogs from reaching your cats. That means that either you put up enough fence to keep these dogs out of your yard or else you keep your cats indoors except when you are right out there with them and can supervise and guard them , ready willing and able to fend off any maurading dogs. Are you really willing to physically fight off one or more dogs trying to grab your cat ? You may well get bitten by the dog or bitten or scratched by your frightened cat. You can of course continue to complain to Animal Control about the loose dogs and their repeated trespass into your yard, and you can complain to your County Board of Supervisors or your City Council if the Animal Control fails to act upon your complaints (especially if other neighbors are also making similar complaints). But in the meanwhile, you have to keep your own cats safe.

Now even if you fence your yard, that won't necessarily keep your cats inside the fence. You say that one cat is really old and not very athletic anymore; so he might actually be unable to climb a fence. You say the other one is very timid , so you think she won't stray. Of course if she does leave your yard, the next time anything frightens her, she will probably hide somewhere where she is not likely to be found. I see ads all the time for Lost Cat that describe the cat as "shy" and "likely to be hiding" and asking people to check their sheds and other potential hiding places. Most of these cats will never make it home.

Legally it's possible that a Judge might consider the cat owner's acts of leaving the cat unsupervised outdoors without a protective fence despite knowledge that there were loose dogs in the area to be Contributory Negligence. If so that would reduce any damages awarded. Again, in my view this is far less important than the fact that the cat would still be permanently dead.

I won't go into the other risks that an outdoor wandering cat faces. In urban areas , the risk of being run over by a car is very real. In rural areas, there are many predators, ranging from coyotes to hawks and owls, who consider a cat to be a tasty treat.

I won't go into the aspect of the cat owner's responsibility to neighbors and public to keep the cat from being a nuisance or a danger. Many neighbors object to wandering cats coming into their yards and using their yards as a toilet. For pregnant women, contact with cat feces poses a genuine risk of Toxoplasmosis causing serious harm to a first trimester fetus.

Bottom line is leaving a cat outdoors in a fenced yard is pretty much the same as leaving a dog outside in an unfenced or inadequately fenced yard. Fences just don't make an effective barrier to cats.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/12/03 revised 10/10/10
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