RICHFORD — A Richford man charged with animal cruelty for shooting his neighbor’s dog, says the dog was threatening him and his family.
According to Charles Hotchkin, two dogs owned by Lawrence Snider and his family had recently become threatening, appearing on the Hotchkin’s property four times in seven days.
Hotchkin contacted the Messenger after Vermont State Police released a scant press statement with little information beyond that Hotchkin had killed the dog following what VSP characterized as a “citizen dispute.” The release appeared in the Messenger on Friday.
“I’ve been branded as a murderer… when I was just defending myself and my family,” Hotchkin said.
Snider disputes Hotchikin’s version of events, saying the dogs had only ventured onto Hotchkin’s farm and garden twice, and that the second time Hotchkin shot one of them.
Hotchkin said the dogs had long run around the area, following members of the Snider family when they went to tend their sugar house. But recently the dogs had begun treating the Hotchkin property as if it was theirs, he said, growling and barking at Hotchkin and his wife on their own land.
Hotchkin said he visited the home of Lawrence’s parents, Christine and Frederick Snider, on Aug. 15 and warned the family that the dogs had been coming to his property. “I… told them the dogs had attacked me in my hay mow on Sunday, Aug. 11,” Hotchkin said. “The dogs had me cornered in my barn.”
The dogs also cornered his wife in the garden the following day, and chased his sister-in-law, who has a small dog. “They ran her right into the house,” said Hotchkin.
Snider said Hotchkin had come to his parents’ home, but that he only described one incident, not three, and that the dogs were in the home at the time, but didn’t do anything threatening.
His dogs do bark, Snider said, but they had not bitten Hotchkin or anyone else.
According to Hotchkin, the dogs returned to his property a fourth time on Aug. 17 when he was out in the open. One of the dogs had circled behind him while the other was coming at him from the front. Hotchkin shot the dog in front of him.
“They were very aggressive,” said Hotchkin. “I would never shoot them dogs if they weren’t aggressive.”
Hotchkin said he had warned the Sniders he would be carrying his pistol and shoot the animals if they threatened him or his family. The Sniders, he said, ignored that warning “and let their dogs run illegally at large knowing we were terrified of them.”
Although Hotchkin was charged with cruelty to an animal, Vermont law, Title 20 §3545, does allow people to kill a domestic pet in self-defense or in defense of another person or animal, provided the animal is not restrained or on its owner’s property.
Snider, however, pointed out that anyone who has a problem with a neighbors’ animals is supposed to report the problem to the proper authorities. “He can’t take the law into his own hands,” said Snider.
Hotchkin admits he did not contact either the police or the animal control officer, saying he had been taught that when you had a problem with your neighbor you worked it out directly.
Yet, Snider said, Hotchkin did not tell him of his dog’s fate. “He didn’t come over and tell me he shot it. I hunted for that dog for four days,” said Snider. His daughter was also looking for the dog.
The dog, a redbone and beagle mix, was 13 months old.
“This is very heartbreaking for me,” said Snider. “For somebody to be that brutal to a harmless animal.”
The dog, Snider said, did not bite people, including his nieces and nephews and delivery people who came to his family’s farm.
The other dog, a black lab and husky mix, is seven and has never bitten anyone, according to Snider.
Hotchkin said he intends to fight the charge against him. “I don’t want to be charged with animal cruelty when I was defending myself,” he said.