Collie shot while killing duck

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

“I had no recourse; the duck was in its mouth,” said Michele Salerno of shooting a collie that killed his duck; he is holding the frozen carcass. He said he will bury the duck when the ground thaws. A general contractor, Salerno has mourned the death of many of his lost pets, he said; they also provide income, which has been curtailed when, over the years, dogs have attacked and killed many of the birds, some of them rare and exotic breeds.

— Photo from Barbara Huba

Sophie, a collie owned by Barbara Huba, was shot on Sunday. She was a beloved family pet and Huba believes the shooter should be punished under the law. She wants to lobby for a new law, Sophie’s Law. She said shooting should not be allowed within 500 feet of a residence. “Because of Facebook, of course, there are now hundreds, if not thousands who are upset,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Enterprise. “But probably not as devastated as I am.”

A conflict between neighbors erupted this week after one neighbor shot another’s dog while it raided his chicken coop. The dog owner attempted to have the shooter arrested, but police declined to charge the poultry owner after their investigation found that he was within his rights according to the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law. The incident brought to light what the shooter claims is an ongoing problem of unresolved and continued domestic animal attacks on his poultry.

Both neighbors, Barbara Huba of Indian Ladder Drive in New Scotland, whose dog was shot; and Michele Salerno, of Altamont Road in Guilderland, agree that the incident was unfortunate and uncomfortable. Tensions between them became public after a social media outcry on Huba’s part, and continued with what Salerno described as a slanderous attack on himself in an anonymous letter.

In a letter to the editor this week, Huba described the grief she felt after learning that her family’s beloved 12-year-old collie, Sophie, had been shot by an adjacent property owner. (Her property is near the Guilderland town line.)

Huba let her dog out on the Sunday before New Year’s Day, but the dog did not return, she told The Enterprise. The dog was not licensed, and did not wear a tag, Huba said.

“I have five acres. I’m on a private road,” she said about why Sophie was not tagged.

“I thought she went off into the woods [to die],” Huba said about her dog’s failure to return. Huba reported to the police that the dog was missing Sunday evening, she said. On Monday, she searched the woods. On New Year’s Eve, she went to the Guilderland Animal Shelter, where she learned that a collie had been shot dead and taken to the Guilderland Animal Hospital. She was led to a basement to view the dog, where she saw that Sophie had been shot more than once.

She told The Enterprise that she brought the subject into the open to bring attention to how ineffective Buster’s Law is in preventing animal cruelty.

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.

When The Enterprise interviewed Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple in 2009 about two dogs that were led away from a property and then shot, he said Buster’s Law would apply to the perpetrator because the animals were pets. But, ultimately, that shooter wasn’t charged with a felony under Buster’s Law because it turned out the dogs were killing his chickens. The 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.

Apple said at the time, “I know the public is a little irritated” because he wasn’t charged with felonies.

“He did shoot the dogs. He didn’t torture them,” said Apple. “This was no sadistic killing…There’s no way a felony would have stood up in court.”

“There are no charges pending in this matter,” said Captain Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police Department this week about Salerno’s situation. The Agriculture and Market Law authorizes an owner to shoot an animal that harasses or damages livestock “and suffer no liability or damages,” Cox said.

When Salerno reported that he had shot the dog, on Dec. 30, Guilderland police responded and investigated the same day, “then and there,” Cox said. The local department called in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation police to assist them, as it does with any case that would involve the Agriculture and Markets Law or a possible environmental conservation violation, Cox said.

“This is a sad situation,” he said.

According to town law, all dogs must be licensed; the penalty for failing to license a dog could lead to a $150 fee. Dogs cannot be off the owner's premises without being restrained by a leash, and they cannot run at large, according to town code.

 “Be cautious with your pets to maintain control of your pets. Make sure they’re licensed,” Cox said.

Disputes

 “We’re going to work on Sophie’s Law to help Buster’s Law,” Huba said. “This just can’t happen. Buster’s Law does not have a lot of teeth. We’ll work on getting it more defined.

“This just isn’t good,” she continued. “The answers aren’t definitive enough.”

Huba said that shooting should not be allowed within 500 feet of a residence, and that Salerno probably shot within that distance. Huba’s house is on one side of Salerno’s property, and her sister’s is on the other, she said.

She acknowledged that Salerno has had trouble with other neighbors’ dogs on his property, but said that most of her neighbors knew her dog and that Sophie generally stayed on her road.

“Shooting an aged pet that has never trespassed before certainly does not constitute appropriate use of a gun,” Huba wrote in her letter.

This week, Salerno provided photographs to The Enterprise showing a collie along with other dogs that had harassed or killed Salerno’s fowl. He also had pictures of dozens of dead, mutilated birds.

Previously, Salerno had received a $100 settlement – an amount he decried as a pittance for the $9,000 cost of his fowl and the income he lost from their deaths – from another dog owner whose animal had attacked Salerno’s birds, after a court session wherein the judge made fun of him, he said.

“I have had six years of my animals being mutilated, killed, destroyed,” Salerno said. “Recently, another dog had come here along with the dog that was shot.” That dog was caught in his chicken coop and taken to a distant shelter, he said.

Salerno purchased 11 ducks in November, but now has only five, he said, due to dog attacks. Some of the ducks were pets, including one he named George, who followed him everywhere, he said, even into his house. Before he was killed, George, a crested duck, used to peck Salerno’s door to be fed, he said.

“I did not just haphazardly shoot a dog,” he said. “I deeply feel for Barbara. I would have made an exception. I would have given Barbara a chance to get her dog off my property” had he known the collie was hers, he said.

Salerno, whose property is 51 acres, said that he received an anonymous letter this week that stated that any of his chickens that entered the road would be hit on sight. The letter called him a murderer and a monster, and said that local children had been warned to stay away from his property, he said.

“Am I supposed to sit here idle and watch my pets get destroyed?” Salerno said, referring to himself as an animal lover. He said that he has called animal control and the police, and has gone to court to find ways to keep unauthorized animals off his property, and that nothing has stopped the attacks on his pets.

“Nobody feels worse than I do about having to shoot that dog. This was a last resort,” he said. “I feel awful about it.”

Huba said that Sophie’s end was unusually violent, with multiple shots fired. Salerno said that he fired two shots; one injured the dog’s leg, and the second killed her.

“The dog was running when I shot it. The dog was running around with a duck in his mouth,” Salerno said. “It wasn’t the first time that dog was on my property. It had no collar on it. Why didn’t it have a collar on? Why was it left to run loose?”

Salerno said that he does not want the tension with his neighbors to escalate.

“I’m not the trigger-happy killer that I’ve been made out to be,” he said.

“He was my friend,” Huba said of Salerno. “He did not realize it was my dog.” She said that she saw him after the incident and told him to put his gun down.

“What if a kid had wandered onto his property?” she said. “Sophie shouldn’t have been on the property doing that. But, do you just pull a trigger? She wasn’t attacking him!”

Salerno’s fiancée, Laurie Reisse, said that Salerno is devastated by the incident and the resulting conflict, including accusations that he is unsafe around children and that he is a murderer. The two are concerned about the defamation of his character.

“This man is heartbroken that it needed to be done in the first place,” she said. “He is absolutely devastated that this had to come to this point.”

“She was a collie,” Huba said. “All he had to say was, ‘Go home!’ or put his hand down to her….She didn’t have to die that way. She wasn’t a pit bull. She wasn’t a Doberman. She was Lassie.”

“She’s dead, and I feel, at this point, the law has to be changed. Just don’t go out and start shooting,” Huba said. “We will try to change the law. We will, and we’ll save some other pets from being shot, and maybe a kid.”

She said that, by trying to change Buster’s Law, or create Sophie’s law, she would cause other gun owners to think twice before shooting.

 “I think he’s very sorry,” she said of Salerno. “It doesn’t bring her back. The whole thing is terribly unfortunate.”

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