Shoot/don’t shoot

I woke up, not knowing the time. It was dark. I heard faint sounds, like distant, blood-curdling screams. No.., uh…I determined I was not dreaming. There it is again. Is it cats? I got up and went to the tiny, upstairs bathroom window. I see the cats hanging out on the garage steps. That’s odd for the middle of a freezing cold night. There’s the sound again!

As soon as I’d pulled on my bathrobe, I saw my son outside, rushing to somewhere. So he’d heard it too.

“Dad! You have a gun? Something’s attacking Ken’s goats!”

“Yup”. Just happens I keep a 38 snubbie, loaded with JHP +P, in my bathrobe pocket. Call me wierd. I grab my flashlight and head downstairs, barefoot.

Sure enough, just across the sidewalk from my yard is my neighbor’s goat pen, and there’s a struggle going on in there.

I’ve seen a goat get its horns stuck in the fence wire and almost die. The only thing saving it was my hearing its blood-curdling screams. I’ve seen one goat get its horns stuck in another goat’s collar, almost strangling it to death, but didn’t realize what happened until my brain figured out that, no, it was not a canine attacking a goat, but two goats stuck together. The only thing that had saved that goat was my hearing its blood-curdling scrams. The pattern of the screaming goats.

In any case, it can take several seconds, or much more, to process input and realize the full extent of what’s happening.

This time it was more obvious. The goats were being attacked. Two dogs, apparently. Is that one of Ken’s dogs? Can’t be. That would make no sense; his dogs are very protective of the goats. These are pack goats, and they all go for walks regularly. They’re all friends.

Too big for coyotes and too stalky and brightly colored for wolves. Those dogs have collars! Both of them! Those are not just dogs. Those are someone’s dogs.

Regardless, this has to stop. By the time I have anything like a firing solution on one of them, the other has broken off, and the remaining dog, the one in front of my 38’s muzzle, has paused in the attack. He hesitates, then starts in the direction of the goats again. Rather than shoot, I call out in a rapid, percussive fashion, “Uh uh uh uh uh..!” That usually stops an animal from whatever it’s doing.

That son of a bitch was having a good time! He did hesitate for a bit though. Now I have him. We’re about ten feet apart, he’s in the pen and I’m outside the fence. One goat appears dead and is all bloody, and another is down and bloody, but alive. Several others are on their feet, but have obviously been wounded. I have a perpetrator dog in my sights, 38 in one hand, flashlight in the other.

We were looking one another in the eye and I have a perfect, broadside shot. Easy.

Shoot or don’t shoot?

I didn’t shoot. My thoughts were on the fact that, at the very moment, there was nothing to “stop” exactly. I was inside city limits where gunfire would certainly wake up several households, and possibly get me into legal issues. Whose dogs are these? In my mind I ran through these factors several times, as though in circles, and never arrived at an answer. For certain, if that dog had displayed the slightest aggression toward me, or the goats again, or so much as snarled, I’d have killed it.

The dog looked at me with a satisfied grin, eventually turned, walked back, squeezed through a hole they’d broken into the fense, and disappeared into the darkness.

I called the owner of the goats, he called the local police, they came over for a description of the dogs (we’d had a very good look at them, and my particular interest in the collars came in useful) and that was that.

I’d told the police chief that I was a split second away from killing at least one of the dogs, but had paused in part because of it being inside town and all. He assured me that it would probably have been fine.

“Yeah, you said ‘probably’ and that’s the point…”
“No, I’m telling you it would have been perfectly OK.”

Alright then. 20/20 hindsight in the light of day after having had conversations about it with several people. I sort of felt bad for letting them get away.

So far, two goats have died. Those are trained pack-goats too. Not easily replaced.

Later, the goat keeper sent me a text saying the police had found the dogs and their owner. VERY good! Excellent! Hopefully the dog owner will do the right thing and make good with the goat keeper without a lawsuit. Now I don’t feel so bad about letting the dogs live, though I believe it would have been a kindness to the dog owner if I’d killed them on the spot– now he’ll experience the protracted anguish of waiting for the court order to have them put down.

Talking to my son about it later, he described his experience of heading out to investigate as first responder, seeing the dogs attacking, starting to act, then realizing; “Wait, what if the dogs attack me?” That was the genesis of “Dad! Got a gun?”

In his case, self defense was a legitimate consideration. When I came out armed however, the issue of self defense never even occurred to me. It was about stopping an attack to save the goats.

I had the luxury of considering all those other factors without the distraction of considering my own safety. That’s the difference between being armed verses not.

14 thoughts on “Shoot/don’t shoot

  1. Get a paint ball gun. The impact is nonlethal but it hurts and leaves a visible mark to track down the miscreants.

    • I can see the utility in that. On the other hand, you’re going out into the dartkness of the wee hours to check out a noise, ready to confront…you know not at all what. You have your firearm and a flashlight, or if you’re more prepaired then you have your firearm with a light mounted on it, AND you’re taking along a paintball gun, because you keep one charged and loaded next to the door or such?

      Maybe. Running through all of that right now, given the situation of the unknown, the paintball rig would have been last on my list. Well, mainly because the paintball gun I have lying around “somewhere” would have to be fitted with its CO2 cylinder (when was the last time I checked its pressure?), some balls would need to be located, and then loaded.

      I suppose that if you put one into your preparedness line-up, then…maybe. I’m not so sure about keeping one “in the ready” though. I recall always removing the gas cylinder after use, and then re-installing it prior, but maybe the technology now permits storage of the system in an “always ready” condition.

      I have kept a paintball “marker” handy for use in daylight, to discourage stray dogs and such, but that’s a very different scenario from confronting, in the dark, what sounded hideously like a child being strangled.

      All told, the idea of “less than lethal” is a difficult one. Sure, it sounds great to have that option, but then again the “asbsoluteness” of lethal authority has saved more lives, I’ll bet, than any “less-than-lethal” technology could. “You’ll do what I say” is rather different from “You’ll do what I say or I’ll put a paint mark on you and someone thus MAY be able to track your ass down sometime later”. That, and the LTL comes with a penalty in the form of that extra burden in your on-hand inventory.

      If I were “kitting up” in a locker room at “team headquarters” knowing the threat in advance, and had a team, then sure, I’d list the marker as a desireable item. Every situation is different though, and you run with what you have. That “team” though, as sure as you’re there reading this, would have pulled the trigger on a firearm in that same scenario.

      • I recall somebody (Para Ordnance maybe?) selling a primer powered paint-ball marker.

        It used plastic cases, .38″ balls, and a primer mounted in reverse into the primer pocket, under a steel cap. The “firing pin” was built into the case, IIRC.

        Maybe one of those, suitably stored but handily placed might work in that situation.

  2. Yeah, 20/20 hindsight and all that. It’s hard to know what the right thing is when confronted with an ambiguous situation. That said, the rule among most of the old farmers I’ve known is that a dog killing livestock needs to be put down. If it’s a beloved pet and it has only killed a chicken he might get off with just wearing the dead carcass around his neck until it rots off.

    • That’s a good rule.

      In an Eskimo village where I spent some time, the rule was any dog caught loose was put down. On sight, no exceptions. Many had sled dog teams, worth many thousands. Controlled breeding, and protecting dogs that were chained to a pole, were the priorities.

      One pastime for local shooting enthusiasts was to go down to the village dump and shoot dogs. Not my cup of tea, but it got the job done.

    • When I was growing up on a farm in Oregon, state law actually called for dogs attacking livestock to be shot on sight.

      We lived a few miles outside of town, where it was convenient for city-dwellers to boot unwanted pets out the car door. I guess they figured the pets would all be adopted. Some were – we took in several strays. Others would form into packs, and start chasing cattle and sheep – those found themselves on the wrong end of a .22-250 or .30-’06.

  3. Around here, I usually turn-to with a single-action in .45 Colt. It’s overkill for possums, coons, and the occasional uppity coyote, but I’ve never had to shoot anything twice. I keep it in the entry-way table, where I have to go past it to get out the front door. (There’s another one in the laundry room, on the way to the back door.) Of course, I live so far out in the sticks that we have to pipe in daylight, and the sun sets between here and town. Just hoping I don’t ever respond to one of these and discover that I should have brought a 1911 and a couple of spare magazines.

  4. I’m from Virginia where state law – and animal owners’ attitudes – allow canines that are threatening livestock (or people) to be summarily dispatched, no questions asked.

    RE: paintball gun: it will certainly benefit someone to have pretty colored splotches on the dog that bit a chunk out of your leg.

    RE: robe pockets. Get a robe with bigger pockets – a .38 snubbie, even one with +P+ ammo, and almost certainly no reloads, is inadequate. It is surprising to almost everyone how many rounds a 100 lb dog can absorb before discouragement sets in, unless you achieve a hit somewhere in the CNS or critical skeletal supporting structure.

    Also RE: robes. I was attacked several years ago by a nieghbor’s 110 lb German shepherd who had dug under the fence dividing our yards; I did not think I needed to carry a gun in my well-fenced backyard. I was wrong. Very wrong. If you open a door to The Outside World it pays to have a suitable projectile-expelling device of major caliber, in a holster, with reloads.

    Also the will to use it. My opinion is colored by my experience (above), but you were wrong in not shooting whichever dog(s) at which you had clear shots; standing there in your nightie you were just as much a potential bite victim as the dead goats, and “action” is always faster than “reaction.” “Officer, I felt threatened when they turned and advanced toward me;” as long as the entry wounds aren’t in the ass, you’re golden.

    In this instance – fortunately – the dogs and their owner were found, and apparently in a postion to provide some degree of recompense; had they been feral, or unknown strays, and you (or your son) been bitten, 100% of the expense – and pain – would have been yours (in my case, the neighbor was deeply underwater and in foreclosure, his cars were in the process of being repossessed, the lender had ceased payments on everything but fire insurance, and as my attorney pointed out a judgement would have been quick and easy but useless).

    • Your points are valid, in the general sense. This was a specific event.

      The dogs were inside the pen. I was outside the fence, aiming with my arm over the fence. I was in no way concerned about my personal safety. I thought I’d made that clear.

      I’ve killed a much larger animal with a pistol, from a greater distance. As a hunter I ask you to trust me when I say that I don’t hit animals with bullets. I kill them with bullets. There’s a difference.

      This was in town.

      No question; the G20 with 15 rounds on board plus 14 more in a spare mag would have been the better rig. Better yet would have been an AR with varmint HP ammo and a weapon light, because over-penetration would then be less of a concern.

      Did I mention that this was in town? I was facing that last dog while looking south, which is downhill. Very little back stop, and there are houses and other buildings less than a hundred yards away to the south, down a steep bank and across a river.

      I had a stationary target at conversational distance, and a perfect kill shot opportunity, so in no way would I be concerned about failing to kill that animal. Two busted lungs and busted heart aren’t instant death, but close enough in THIS case, being that there was a fence between us.

      In THIS case it worked out as best it could. Kinda hard to knock it.

      Though two goats are dead, one goat is now in serious condition, but will probably recover. The dogs stopped the attack as soon as we arrived. If I’d taken the extra time to go back to my bed and pull on my pants (with the Glock), or fish out the Glock, the third goat would very likely now be dead. The nearby neighbors got to keep sleeping because there was no gunfire.

      The one and only drawback to my failure to kill the dogs on the spot was the fact that the lady who owns them must now suffer the extended pain of knowing that her dogs will be put down by court order. I was told today that they’ll be put down within a few days, if not sooner. Her suffering would less if I’d killed them on the spot.

      I did not know any of those things in the moment. The attack stopped purely on account of our arrival.

      You work with what you have. Would I ever recommend anyone specifically choose a 5-shot 38 for something like that? Never. It’s what I had to get to the scene, and stop the carnage, with no vacillation. It turned out to have been enough.

    • I was waiting for a comment like that, to relate what just happened last night.

      It was in the wee hours of the morning. Pitch dark, when I was awakened by a bump-in-the-night. Someone had entered my house without knocking, was prowling around downstairs for a bit, then rushed upstairs, in the direction of my bedroom suite.

      Shoot or don’t shoot?

      It was my son.

      My mother relates a similar story, in which she had a rifle pointed at a dark figure of a man in the night, who turned out to be her husband, my dad, who had come home late, through the back door.

      “Always” shoot?

      • Hence why it’s not a bad idea to -call out- even if you might wake people. Just a ‘hey Dad, I’m home’ will settle nerves.

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