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VOL. 40 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 13, 2016

Know you rights when confronting egg-sucking dogs

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Several years ago – and I do mean several – my good friend Fred Harrison tipped me off to a pair of cases from the Mississippi Supreme Court.

They were prominently featured in “Perry’s Dead! (And the ‘Juice’ is Loose),” 1995.

Because of their lasting merit, I present them again in today’s column.

Hull v. Scruggs, 2 So. 2d 543 (Miss. 1941), held that a defendant was justified in shooting to death a dog that had repeatedly snuck onto his property and bit holes in his turkey and guinea eggs and sucked them dry.

According to the Mississippi Supreme Court, “It is … common knowledge that when a dog has once acquired the habit of egg-sucking there is no available way by which he can be broken of it, and … no calculable limit to his appetite.”

The evidence at trial had been that the defendant had tried to stop the thieving canine in several ways, all in vain. Justice Griffith of the high court in the Magnolia State empathized:

“[G]enerally [a suck-egg dog] has a sufficient degree of intelligence that he will commit the offense … upon every clear opportunity, in such a stealthy way that he can seldom be caught in the act.” Notwithstanding this obvious law of nature, the plaintiff argued that shooting the dog was something that might occur permissively only if the dog were caught in the act.

The court specifically rejected the notion that “the dog could not lawfully be killed except while in the actual commission of the offense … . After such a period of habitual depredation as shown in this case, [one] is not required to wait and watch with a gun until he can catch the predatory dog in the very act.

“Such a dog would be far more watchful than would be the watcher himself, and the depredation would not occur again until the watcher had given up his post and had gone about some other task, but it would then recur, and how soon would be a mere matter of opportunity.”

The court actually relied on a similar, though not identical, case from eight years earlier, Thomas v. State, 148 So. 2d 225 (Miss. 1933), in which one Limon Minyard had shot and killed the dog of Ed Thomas after it had sucked his eggs dry for two months. Thomas then approached Minyard with a shotgun, demanded $20 payment for the dog and, on failing to find any cash, “settled” for a cow and a yearling. And then he got indicted for theft.

Affirming Thomas’s conviction, the court wrote that “Minyard was not guilty of criminal mischief in the killing of the dog. … There is serious doubt as to Minyard’s civil liability for the killing of the dog.”

I’ve read these cases aloud now to Maggie, the 12-year-old “cheagle” that Susan and I have now had on approval for over 10 years. Her habit, of which she cannot be broken, is eating human food at every clear opportunity, especially when it’s been left on a coffee table or end table next to a chair or sofa.

But no one has shot her yet.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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