Half Moon Bay, California

From the InsideBayArea.com of May 2, 2007

Passions stir over dog shooting on coast
Officials say property owner had right to protect farm animals

A homegrown controversy over the shooting of a dog on a man’s property in defense of his farm animals last month has escalated into an ugly bout of name-calling, hurt feelings and even death threats.

Residents are divided over whether local resident George Muteff, a financial consultant who keeps horses, ewes and lambs in his fenced-in backyard, was justified in shooting to death a neighbor’s Boston terrier that he says broke into his field and attacked his animals on April 4.

Regardless of anyone’s moral judgments about the event, the fact is that Muteff acted legally, say officials.

“He had every right to shoot the dog. It’s tragic and awful, but everyone who owns livestock is entitled to do what he did,” said Scott Delucchi, spokesman for the Peninsula Humane Society.

San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Morris Maya agreed, citing a section of the state Food and Agriculture Code that gives people the right to protect their livestock from dogs. The exemption applies regardless of how a property owner’s land is zoned or whether it is located in a busy residential area, said Maya. The District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute the case after the Half Moon Bay Police Department referred it for review.

That finding has not stopped dozens of locals from posting strongly-worded comments on two Coastside online message boards, ranging from blaming Muteff for what some call animal abuse to reproaches directed at the dog’s owners for letting the animal roam free. The issue also has raised concerns about the safety of using a gun so close to other homes in a residential neighborhood.

Muteff’s property lies next to Ocean Colony, an upscale subdivision west of Highway 1 that borders on a golf course near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Muteff’s back field faces a walking path also used by golf carts.

Several Ocean Colony residents were expected to make their voices heard at a Half Moon Bay City Council meeting on Tuesday night. Allen Alifano, president of the board of directors of the Ocean Colony homeowner’s association, sent a letter to Mayor Naomi Patridge on April 19 expressing “concern, alarm and uneasiness” about the shooting.

“The shot could have missed its mark and seriously injured or caused a human fatality,” wrote Alifano.

Muteff, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Half Moon Bay City Council in 2006, said he and his wife have been living a “nightmare” since he shot the 11-pound dog, which squeezed under the fence that pens the sheep and ewes in Muteff’s backyard and started barking and snapping at the animals’ legs, with a .22 caliber handgun. A second dog that had escaped from the same home stood barking outside the enclosure.

Muteff’s wife tried throwing rocks and sticks at the terrier, but it cornered two ewes and wouldn’t back off. One ewe tried to jump over the fence to escape and injured herself, claims Muteff.

“The dog was on her. He was biting her. He was attacking her,” he said. “Sheep were scattered all over the field. They were panicked, with their tongues hanging out.”



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