Can't we all just get along? Some dogs get along well with chickens, but many more do not.
An eye for an eye, a snout for a beak. That’s the way things sometimes work in Virginia, where the law on the books not only allows citizens who own chickens to shoot dogs attacking their flock, but requires animal control officers to put down "confirmed poultry killers" on sight.
With backyard hens becoming more popular among urban locavores, Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) wants to amend the law that she says was written mostly with rural populations in mind.
"That law makes sense in a rural setting where your poultry is part of your
livelihood, but you can imagine if that were to happen in a
densely-populated urban area, it might not be such a good idea," McClellan says.
Far from being a hypothetical scenario, McClellan says she has seen the law play out near her home district.
"This was brought to a city councilman's attention by a woman in Hanover
who had her dog killed by her neighbor," McClellan says. "The neighbor claimed the dog
was chasing her chickens, so she killed the dog. The dog owner said she
didn't believe her, but there's nothing she could do about it because of
the code on the books."
The bill introduced by McClellan does two things. First, it would give animal control officers the option to seize a dog attacking livestock instead of automatically killing it. Second, it empowers localities of a certain density to pass ordinances that would soften citizens' right to defend their birds with deadly force.
For much of Northern Virginia, the issue is largely hypothetical. In Arlington, for example, backyard hens are allowed, but zoning ordinances require setbacks of 100 feet from streets and lot lines, effectively barring them from most properties. Even so, fans of backyard hens support the bill.
Ed Fendley is with the Arlington Egg Project, which is pushing the Arlington County Board to amend the current restrictions on backyard hens. He offered tentative support for the legislation, expressing optimism that our animal companions, both feathered and furry, can be friends.
"Many of us former or future henkeepers are also dog-lovers," Fendley says. "In communities that embrace backyard hens, we've seen that people, dogs, and hens can all get along. We're confident that this would be the case here in Arlington."
The bill will first have to make it out of the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources before it can be considered by the General Assembly.