BERRYVILLE -- A Berryville animal control officer has been reprimanded after he allegedly shot a man's dog, buried it at the city pound, and then tried to conceal the animal's death from its owners, according to the mayor's office.
The debacle began in the wee hours of March 11, when Deb and Darrin Hatfield noticed their two German Shepherds, Egon and Fritz, had escaped from their yard.
The couple notified law enforcement and began searching for the dogs immediately, Darrin Hatfield said.
Later that day, Animal Control Officer Chuck Stubbs notified the Hatfields that two dogs matching their pets' descriptions had attacked and killed a cat. Hatfield said he contacted the cat's owners that day and paid their veterinarian bills before continuing the search.
They scoured the city all week long, Hatfield said. Each day, he asked Stubbs whether he had any news of the dogs' whereabouts, and, each time, the officer told him he knew nothing.
That was a lie, Hatfield said.
On Friday, the couple heard through an acquaintance that their dogs had been shot -- by Stubbs. Mayor Tim McKinney said the dogs had attacked a goat on Monday, on the property of Vaughn Farmer.
According to the mayor, Farmer had already shot and killed one of the dogs by the time Stubbs arrived on the scene, and the second dog might have also been wounded -- the animal allegedly had blood on its coat.
The mayor said the men initially attempted to coax the second dog from the goat pen verbally, but when it did not respond, Stubbs shot that dog, as well. McKinney said the city was not equipped with tranquilizing equipment, which requires costly licensing and certification, and that using a snare collar on the dog would not have been possible under the circumstances.
Though Farmer declined to comment for this story, Hatfield said Farmer had said on Friday that Stubbs asked him to keep the shooting "quiet." Stubbs then buried the two animals in a ditch at the city pound. The mayor said this was not uncommon. In the days before the pound became a no-kill facility, he said, all euthanized animals were buried on the property, and road kill is still disposed of there.
No attempt was ever made to contact the Hatfields after the dogs were shot. McKinney said the city was not equipped with the technology to read the electronic identification chips implanted in each dog's ear. The mayor added that the city had no clearly established policy spelling out what to do when an animal is killed.
Still, Hatfield said Stubbs should have known the dogs were his. Stubbs told Hatfield on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday that he knew nothing about the dogs' whereabouts, even though he had apparently buried them earlier in the week.
On Saturday, Hatfield and a friend went to Stubbs' house to ask once more if he had found their dogs. Again, Stubbs denied having seen them. Only after Hatfield told Stubbs he had spoken with Farmer did the officer acknowledge killing the animals.
McKinney said he regretted that the dogs had been shot, though he thought the killing was justified. The mayor pointed to a state law that allows for the killing of dogs when they attack livestock.
"Bottom line is if these people had been following the rules, none of this would have happened," he said of the Hatfields.
Still, the mayor acknowledged that Stubbs had "made a judgment error" by not notifying the Hatfields of the killing. He guessed the officer had been trying to "avoid a confrontation."
"The way it was handled after the animals were killed was not good," he said. "It's been addressed, and it better not happen again on my watch."
The mayor said he had issued a verbal warning to Stubbs, a copy of which was placed in his personnel file, and that future infractions would be grounds for "severe action."
McKinney said he had received complaints against Stubbs before, though they were of a trivial and personal nature. Stubbs had never been accused of animal abuse or cruelty, he said.
Stubbs could not be reached for comment by deadline, though the mayor said the officer had been hurt by the backlash following the incident. A Facebook page calling for "justice for Fritz and Egon" had garnered nearly 300 likes by March 19, with some commentators calling for Stubbs to be imprisoned, even shot.
Hatfield said it wasn't the fact that his dogs were killed that bothered him so much -- though he grieved their loss. He said it was the way Stubbs handled the situation after pulling the trigger that upset Hatfield most.
"I don't fault anyone for shooting my dogs," he said, "but when the animal control officer lied to me repeatedly about where my dogs were and then took them out to the pound and threw them in a ditch and put dirt on them ..."
Hatfield said he suspected Stubbs had acted in the way he did out of spite. He said his dogs had gotten loose once before and wandered into the Price Cutter grocery store. At that time, he said, Stubbs had told him, "You had better get your dogs before I do."
"The person running animal control should have compassion for an animal and its owner," he said, "and it's obvious that he had no respect for me or my wife to not tell us anything."