Police in NH, Vt. hunt poultry-pillaging dog that killed chickens in Norwich

  • Eric Picconi closes the door to the chicken coop that houses his last remaining chicken at his home in Norwich, Vt., on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. A dog broke into the coop on Nov. 15 and killed four of the family’s five chickens. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus

  • Two chicken coops and a treehouse overlook Huntley Meadows from Eric Picconi’s backyard in Norwich, Vt., on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Dogs often run around off leash in the park and Picconi says a dog has run up the hill and killed a chicken in his yard once before. “Dogs are faster than I am,” he said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2021 9:33:38 PM
Modified: 12/3/2021 8:21:11 AM

NORWICH — Norwich police have launched a two-state search for a dog named “Ruby” that allegedly attacked and killed a resident’s chickens as a result of being off-leash at the town’s Huntley Meadow, which has athletic fields but also has become a popular area for dog owners.

The Norwich Police Department has requested the names of all dogs licensed under the name of Ruby in the towns Hanover and Hartford as well as the city of Lebanon, municipal officials said Monday.

So far Norwich police have been unable to locate the owner of the dog believed to be responsible for the attack on the hen house owned by Eric Picconi, whose family lives on Turnpike Road, abutting Huntley Meadow.

“The investigation is ongoing. I’ve got nothing else to add, mate,” said Sgt. Simon Keeling, interim chief of the Norwich Police Department.

The attack on the hens occurred the afternoon of Nov. 15, Picconi said on Monday.

The incident first came to public attention when Picconi posted on the Norwich listserv on Nov. 18 about a dog that he believes had been off leash in Huntley Meadow and “clawed its way through the chicken wire” of the coop in his backyard and “forced its way up into their safe space and attacked.”

Picconi said he discovered the ensuing mayhem when he came home from work to find the carcasses of three of his five hens on the ground in the “run” of the coop, a fourth hen fatally injured and a fifth that is still alive but severely maimed and has not laid eggs since the attack.

Audio of the attack was recorded by a home security system on which can be heard hens wailing and a dog barking and then a female voice calling Ruby, Picconi said, leading him to believe that is the dog’s name.

On Monday, while showing a visitor the chicken coop, Picconi said he believes the dog had mounted a feed bucket, tore the chicken wire from its fastening and climbed down into the coop and then ascended through a floor hatch into the roosting loft where it attacked the hens.

Picconi suspects the dog was then trapped inside the coop and able to get out only after the owner had unlatched the coop door because he doesn’t see how the dog would have been able to climb back out up through the opening in the chicken wire it had ripped from its fastenings.

Picconi, who said he had never posted to the town listerv previously and does not have a Facebook account, said he received “about 15 emails” in response to going public about the incident. He stresses he is not anti-dog and only wants dog walkers to be “conscientious” in minding their pets.

He noted the eggs from the hens were a way of “being generous and able to share with our neighbors,” especially during the confines of the pandemic and “is something we will miss,” although he expects to resume with a new flock when the pullets arrive next spring.

This was not the only time Picconi’s hens have been mauled by a dog off-leash from Huntley Meadow. Last year Picconi said he let out a couple of hens to roam and peck in his backyard when a dog “shot up” through the wooded embankment behind his house, which borders Huntley Meadow, and attacked and killed a hen.

“We haven’t let the chickens out since then,” said Picconi, a Spanish teacher and cross country coach at Hanover High School where his wife, Jessica Eakin, is a media specialist.

Norwich’s animal control ordinance only requires that dog owners “shall bear sole responsibility for the actions” of their animals and dogs are allowed to be off-leash at Huntley Meadow. The park in fact is a popular meeting ground on weekend mornings for dog owners and their pets from Norwich and surrounding communities to get together and play.

State law says domestic pets attacking livestock, poultry or other pets may be killed if “the attendant circumstances are such that the killing is reasonably necessary to prevent injury to the animal or fowl which is the subject of the attack.” Dog owners in some cases can also be fined up to $500 for failing to control their pets.

The search to find Ruby and identify its owner has so far extended to at least three Upper Valley municipalities and even crossed state lines, officials confirm.

In Hartford, Town Clerk Lisa O’Neil said Norwich police were provided information about the owners of three dogs registered under the name Ruby and “one named ‘Rudy,’ they asked for that one as well.”

Across the river in New Hampshire, where dog license records by state law are not accessible to the general public, but can be made available to police, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said, “I know (Norwich police) did ask us about providing information and we did accommodate but I don’t know what the results were.”

Lebanon Police Chief Phil Roberts said his department got a call on Sunday from a police officer in Norwich on the matter but “we had no information to assist.”

Roberts said his department responded to only one call in recent years about a dog attacking chickens, but police in Lebanon do get a number of calls regarding dogs of a different nature.

“The majority of dog complaints we have here in the city are in West Lebanon, about people leaving dogs in their cars when temperatures are up, shopping or running errands,” Roberts said. “We get a lot of those in the summer.”

One Lebanon resident, Megan Moseley, who owns an eight-year-old standard poodle named Ruby, said she was both called and visited by Norwich police on Sunday.

Moseley said the first question she was asked by the police was “when was the last time I was in Norwich, and I said three years ago for one of my children’s baseball games.”

“When I asked why they were calling me they said because there were only two dogs named ‘Ruby’ in Norwich,” Moseley said.

But even though Moseley assured police they never let their Ruby out of their fenced backyard — “she would be more afraid of a chicken than anything else,” Moseley said — Norwich police nonetheless pulled up to her residence near Route 120 southeast of downtown later that afternoon to quiz her again.

“The senior officer said, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know we had called you,’ ” Moseley related.

On a cold Monday afternoon as dusk was settling over Huntley Meadow, Bob Fisken, who lives on Bradley Hill Road in Norwich, had arrived with his seven-year old male dog named Bela, which he described as “looks like a black lab.”

Fisken, who also grooms Huntley Meadow for cross-country skiers during the winter, was already on his “second trip of the day” with Bela to the park.

“There are thousands of dogs that come here,” Fisken said. “Most of them are pretty good.”

He said his wife reminds him “there as no bad dogs, only bad dog owners.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vews.com.

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