Council refuses to pay woman for loss of sheep


Janet Unfried said she has tried everything.

She fenced in her flock of 50 sheep with barbed wire fence. She tried to build a blockade on her 18-acre Jarrettsville farm. She even tried to get Jack the Burro to scare off the dogs that have been killing her sheep.

But Jack proved a dud when it came to frightening away sheep-killing dogs, and the fence and blockade haven't worked.

In fact, nothing she's done has seemed to help, she said.

So she was not happy this week to learn that some Harford County Council members had criticized her Tuesday night for not taking better care of her flock.

In refusing to pay her $300 for the loss of three lambs and one sheep, several council members said she could have done more to prevent the dog attacks.

After all, since 1990, Mrs. Unfried, 56, has been reimbursed $538 by the county for two sheep and three lambs -- more claims than any other livestock owner in that same period.

"With sheep all you have to do is put two strands of electric wire down," said Councilman Robert Wagner, who operates a beef cattle farm.

The fact that Mrs. Unfried hasn't done so, Mr. Wagner said, "kind of tells you that they're not doing anything other than waiting for something to happen, then coming to the county for compensation."

To Mr. Wagner, Mrs. Unfried's case and that of Samuel Fielder, a Jarrettsville dairy farmer who lost a $1,100 dairy cow to a dog attack earlier this year, illustrate why the county ought to abolish its livestock reimbursement law.

No one actually saw the dogs attack the livestock, so it's virtually impossible for the county to find the dog owners to reimburse the county, Mr. Wagner said.

After a discussion and review of several photographs of Mr. Fielder's dead Holstein, the council did agree to pay him $250 for his loss -- half of what he requested.

Mr. Fielder, who has a 500-acre dairy farm in Jarrettsville, said the council's decision made him so angry that he's going to give the money back.

"They go out and break their necks for parks and rec, historical society and this damn thing and that damn thing," he complained. "But they'll go out of their way to keep a farmer from selling a lot."

Mr. Wagner disagrees. "Where this has gone is it's left the county as an insurance company for livestock owners," he said.

Before this year, the county had no choice but to have a law that gave compensation to livestock owners for animals killed by dogs. A state law required it. Last year, that law was repealed.

Mr. Wagner believes that the county ought to stop reimbursing animal owners for dead livestock. He's drafted such a bill, which he plans to introduce at the council meeting Tuesday.

Councilman Barry Glassman, who raises a flock of sheep in Webster, agrees with Mr. Wagner that there's a problem with the compensation law. But he doesn't want to eliminate it -- noting the county never has come close to paying the $7,500 annual limit on livestock claims.

Since 1990, for instance, the total paid by the county -- $3,429 -- is less than half the annual budget appropriation. The most paid in one year was $1,493 in 1992, when two pigs, two calves, a cow and a lamb were killed by dogs.

"I just don't think the program is a failure, or a boondoggle that needs to be abolished," said Mr. Glassman, who researched the history of "predatory" laws and found they date to the mid-1600s. "They're old laws, but I still think they serve a purpose."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Unfried is challenging her council rebuff. She plans to appeal her case.

"They're blaming the victim," she said. "It's the people's pet dogs who are killing my lambs."

The council will meet at 8 p.m. Tuesday on level A of the courthouse in Bel Air.

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