Montcalm County commissioners reluctantly agree to pay sheep farmer

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 9:13 am on Thursday, August 29, 2013

STANTON — The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners has (mostly) agreed to obey an “archaic” state law and pay financial damages to a local farmer after two dogs attacked and killed his sheep last year.

Commissioners have been debating the issue since April, when Kenneth Lund of Sheridan wrote commissioners a letter detailing a Nov. 20, 2012, incident in which a flock of 28 sheep owned by Lund’s wife Deb were attacked by two neighborhood dogs. Six ewes were killed by the dogs and two more ewes had to be euthanized due to the severity of their wounds. The remaining sheep were all injured in some form or another.

The two dogs, Chewy (a rottweiler mix) and Mater (a Labrador mix), were found in Lund’s sheep pen and were killed by Lund. The dogs both had rabies tags and a Michigan State Police officer was able to locate the owner, Kelly Sue Hitsman of Sheridan. According to the police report, Hitsman told police her dogs got out of their pen sometime in the middle of the night and killed her goats. She had recently picked up the dogs from Montcalm County Animal Control after the dogs were found running at large.

According to a Michigan law dating back to 1919: “If a person sustains any loss or damage to livestock or poultry that is caused by dogs, or if the livestock of a person is necessarily destroyed because of having been bitten by a dog, the person or his or her agent or attorney may complain to the township supervisor or a township official or other qualified person designated by the township board of the township in which the damage occurred … Any owner or keeper of the dog or dogs shall be liable to the county in a civil action for all damages and costs paid by the county on any claim as provided in this section.”

Lund requested $450 each for the eight dead ewes ($3,600), $200 each for the damaged 18 ewes ($3,600) and $564.10 for a Central Michigan Equine Veterinary Services bill for a total of $7,764.10. He believes the damage done to the surviving sheep permanently reduced their productivity.

Last April, commissioners were not clear about whether Hitsman had provided any restitution in the matter. They recommended Lund take Hitsman to court for civil liability. If Lund was unsuccessful in this matter, commissioners said he had the option of coming back to the county.

The issue was revisited earlier this month at a Law Enforcement & Courts Committee meeting after commissioners learned Hitsman has not provided Lund with any reimbursement. Two motions were made by Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township to pay Lund some form of restitution, but the motions died or failed due to lack of support.

The issue was brought to Monday’s full board meeting, where action was finally taken — but not before more discussion ensued. Some commissioners were concerned that paying Lund would set a precedent for future dog-livestock attacks.

“I think the law itself leaves us wide open,” noted Commissioner Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview. “If somebody wants to use this archaic law, I think we’re on the hook for that.”

Commissioner Steve DeWitt of Coral, who has consistently spoken out against paying the farmer, stated his opinion again.

“There’s a number of laws on the books that are not enforced,” he said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands of them. I also have a problem with people who think the government is the answer to their daily woes. I don’t think the county should be involved in this debt collection at a significant expense (including legal fees for pursuing restitution from the owner of the dogs).”

Carr agreed the law is outdated and there are many outdated laws on the book, but opined that local legislators should take action to repeal the law.

Commissioners then voted 7-2 to pay Lund $400 each for the eight dead sheep and $564.10 for the vet bill for a total of $3,764.10. Commissioner Ron Blanding of Greenville and DeWitt cast the opposing votes.

Commissioners also voted 6-3 to have the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office pursue obtaining reimbursement from Hitsman via civil court action. Commissioner Ron Baker of Howard City, Carr and DeWitt cast the opposing votes.

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