I remember the first time my Chow killed another animal. I let him out in our backyard, and he hurtled out in hot pursuit of some furry menace, as he always did. Most of the time, he chased the squirrel who ran along the top of our fence, which was tilting at windmills; this time was different. He sprinted the length of our yard and returned in hot pursuit of something moving so fast I couldn’t make it out. Unfortunately, he was able to corner his prey and execute it, but not before whatever it was let out an agonized, terrified scream, then went silent. I went over to view the carnage. Chowder was standing proudly next to his victim, a rabbit. I could tell he wanted praise, so I mustered up a “good boy.” After that, though, I was so shaken I had a hard time looking at him for several days.
I was being ridiculous, of course; Chowder was acting the way he was meant to: he had a high prey drive and immense focus, and it all came together for him that day. Eventually I was able to get used to it enough that I was able to limit myself to a grimace on those occasions when Chowder won the day. I also set up a few systems to try to give the rabbits a bit of warning, including putting bells on the door and flicking the lights before we let him out at night.
Unfortunately, for too many people, a dog that chases or hunts cats and smaller animals is seen as monstrous or aggressive. They will call for such dogs to be euthanized. I have also known of dozens of cases where wonderful dogs have had to be rehomed after incidents where smaller animals were injured or killed. In some of those cases, the incident was caused when a dog in a fenced yard attacked an outdoor or stray cat that wandered onto the property. In others, a dog that was improperly contained escaped and killed a neighbor’s animal. In all of those cases, the dog was simply acting naturally. However, the dog (and sometimes the owner) was no longer welcome in the neighborhood. In such cases, owners were under enormous pressure not just to get rid of their pet, but to have it executed for its crime.
The best thing owners can do to prevent such incidents is to make sure that their animals are secured on their property. “Good fences make good neighbors” is a dog-owning commandment.
Owners can also make sure they know how prey-motivated their dog is and be extra-vigilant in situations where this might be an issue. I rather forcefully told my neighbors with the roaming outdoor cat what would happen if the cat got into our fenced yard. Thank goodness nothing happened, but if it did, I could feel comfortable that they knew the possible consequences. It wasn’t a happy topic to think about, but it’s part of owning a dog with a prey drive.