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Pit bulls blamed for killing sheep in Langley

Jean and Milo Milfs near their now vacant barn after two pit bulls dogs who lived nearby their Hollyhock Lane home killed their small band of pet sheep on Monday. The couple, saddened by the loss, treated the four sheep as pets. - Brian Kelly
Jean and Milo Milfs near their now vacant barn after two pit bulls dogs who lived nearby their Hollyhock Lane home killed their small band of pet sheep on Monday. The couple, saddened by the loss, treated the four sheep as pets.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

Two pit bulls are blamed for killing four Shetland sheep in Langley Monday.

According to Carol Barnes, Island County animal control officer, the sheep were attacked at about 11:30 a.m. in their fenced pen at the home of Milo and Jean Milfs on Hollyhock Lane and Langley Road.

Barnes and Island County Sheriff's deputy Rick Norrie arrived on the scene after responding to a 911 call from Marcia Milfs, a daughter-in-law who lives next door to her in-laws.

Milfs said she had let her own dog outside and heard it barking.

When she looked toward her in-laws' house she saw a pit bull chasing the sheep. She jumped in her car and drove down to the pen, where she saw three sheep on the ground, their bodies torn up. Milfs yelled at the dogs when one turned and started barking at her. She then picked up a rock and threw it at the dog, causing it to back down. She immediately called authorities.

Milo and Jean Milfs returned to Langley from a medical appointment in Seattle Monday afternoon to face the loss of their small band of sheep.

"They were our pets," Milo Milfs said. "We had just the four of them, and two we've raised since they were lambs."

Shetland sheep are known for their fine wool, which Jean Milfs collects and spins.

The couple had owned two of the sheep, Nanette and Josephine, for eight years. They were the mothers of the other two, 5-year-old Daisy and Buck.

"Every morning they waited for treats from my husband, wagging their little tails," Jean Milfs said.

"The two younger ones were born here," she added.

"It's a little quiet out there now," she said.

Her husband agrees.

"We've had them a long time," Milfs said. "As pets, they are not replaceable."

Following the late morning attack, one sheep was dead and three had to be euthanized in their pen by a local veterinarian, who was called to the scene by authorities.

"The sheep were much loved and cared for," Marcia Milfs said. "They will be missed."

The dogs belonged to two different owners sharing the same house nearby. One owner voluntarily had his dog euthanized the day after the incident. He also made some restitution to the Milfses.

"He is very upset by the situation and has been cooperative," Barnes said.

The case against the second dog owner is still pending; the dog remains at home with its owner.

Barnes cited both dog owners for "control off premises," a misdemeanor in Island County. Each owner was also served with a dangerous dog notification, which requires registration of dangerous dogs, additional insurance to cover potential damage by the dog, and owner liability for any animal or person that is killed or injured by their dog.

The state statute on dangerous dogs places restrictions and conditions on an owner who keeps what is deemed a "dangerous dog." If owners do not follow the requirements, Barnes can cite them for a gross misdemeanor and confiscate the animal.

But for Jean and Milo Milfs, it's too late. They have lost pets that were special to them.

"We can only blame the owners for their recklessness and carelessness in this matter," Milo Milfs said. "The dogs were only doing what they are bred to do."

"The owners of the dogs should receive some reprimand," he said.

Barnes said the owners had been out looking for their dogs when the incident occurred.

"The dogs did not have a separate kennel. It appeared they were kept in the house," Barnes said.

The incident in Langley brings into focus what Barnes says is a growing problem of dangerous dogs on the island.

The number of roaming dogs committing vicious attacks on other animals has been on the increase, Barnes said.

Other breeds can be a problem too.

"It's not just pit bulls," she said.

"But there seems to be a growing popularity of pit bulls among young adults; a status symbol to show how tough they are. In many cases the young owners don't understand the breed, how to train and care for it, or they don't care," Barnes said.

"Some of these owners just let the dogs roam," she said.

One concern on Whidbey is the "backyard breeder," Barnes said. "We are aware of several irresponsible pit bull breeders on the island."

In some cases, Barnes is able to pick up strays and take them to the animal shelter in Coupeville.

Shari Bibich, shelter manager for the Whidbey Island Animal Improvement Foundation, estimates that three times as many pit bulls came into the shelter as strays or surrenders this year, when compared to last year.

"Many of the dogs are non-neutered males, which are the most aggressive," Bibich said.

The two pit bulls that attacked the Milfses sheep were both males. The dog the owner chose to put down was neutered; the other dog isn't.

Barnes said she has several other dangerous dog cases pending.

She said she picked up a loose pit bull wandering near The Waldorf School several weeks ago.

"The dog did not hurt anyone, but the fact that it was roaming is a concern," Barnes said.

"It is an unaltered male that was claimed by its owner. He has two other pit bulls at home," she said.

Another case still pending occurred in Greenbank when a malamute-type dog dug out from under a chain link fence while its owner was home.

"It went to the neighbors' porch and mauled their 16-year-old cat to death," Barnes said.

These are the most recent examples. Barnes says the county looks at each case individually and does not "breed-type." Other breeds that have caused problems in Island County include German shepherds, Rottweilers and dobermans.

Even so, pit bulls have been at the center of a number of animal complaints.

In Oak Harbor, for instance, three pit bulls attacked and killed a chocolate Labrador retriever recently.

In April this year, Barnes picked up four pit bull puppies on Coles Road that were allegedly being raised for boar fighting in the Southeast. Three of the four were eventually euthanized at the shelter for displaying extreme aggression with one another, and one of the three bit a shelter worker.

The fourth dog, a very shy and frightened female, has been adopted after shelter staff members spent months working with her. The dog, scarred from being attacked by its litter mates, was adopted by a caring individual with experience with the breed.

Barnes said she does not label all these breeds as mean dogs.

"There are many that become loyal family pets," she said.

Currently, there are several strays or surrendered pit bulls at the shelter. All dogs and cats adopted from the shelter are spayed and neutered.

Choosing to keep a dog that is deemed dangerous under the law is not easy.

Once the dog engages in a behavior which meets the definition of dangerous, its owner must follow strict care and maintenance requirements for the life of the dog.

In order to keep the dog, it must be maintained in a proper enclosure. When not in the kennel the dog must be muzzled and restrained on a leash or chain.

The owner is also required to obtain a liability insurance policy such as a homeowner's policy or renter's insurance in the amount of at least $250,000.

Obtaining an insurance policy can be a problem. A number of insurance companies will not write homeowner or rental insurance policy for people with certain breeds, whether they are classified dangerous or not.

"We work with a number of companies that won't underwrite insurance for people who own certain breeds; Akita chow, pitt bull presa canarios, Rottweiler or wolf hybrids," said Jim Porter, owner of Porter Insurance in Freeland.

"These dog owners are faced with finding a company that will insure their home. From an insurance standpoint, dog bites are expensive. They comprise 25 percent of homeowners claims paid out," Porter said.

"The owner definitely has a responsibility of how these dogs are trained and cared for, that will determine how they react," he added.

Barnes agrees.

"People who choose to own certain breeds are responsible for maintaining the dogs in a safe, controlled environment, and providing training so they won't injure people or other animals."

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