A Mississippi man searching for his missing dog recently found an anonymous note in his mailbox saying his dog had been shot and killed. The note scolded him and said he should abide by the county's leash law.
"I'm sorry to inform you that your dog was shot and killed Saturday night while digging through my garbage," the anonymous note said, according to the Associated Press. "It did not suffer and I did not take pleasure in killing it. There is a county leash law which you should abide by so that I do not have to kill anymore of your pets."
Chad Stricker had already spent several days searching for his 10-month-old wolf-dog named Nymeria when he found the note and Nymeria's collar in his mailbox this month. Her large yellow collar featured an oversized tag that included her photo, owner's address and number and a description of her personality.
"I was sick to my stomach," Stricker said. "To think that someone killed her while we had been out looking for her, for digging in the garbage. ... An animal is not worth more than your trash or the time to make a phone call?"
Such a shooting isn't uncommon in Mississippi, according to a shelter manager.
It's also not unheard of here in Hamilton County.
Dogs and their owners in Chattanooga and Hamilton County are required to abide by city and county leash laws.
The state of Tennessee actually prohibits dogs from running astray without a leash or other physical confinement, unless the dog is engaged in legal hunting or herding.
You also can't take an unleashed animal onto anyone else's property without his or her permission, and it's against the law to allow an unleashed animal on most public property in Chattanooga, according to city ordinances.
Any animal found wandering off-leash more than once in a 12-month period can be subject to seizure and impounded by the Animal Services Department at the McKamey Animal Center, according to the city's code. An owner must then pay fees starting at $20 plus an additional $10 per day as well as the cost to spay or neuter and microchip the pet for it to be released from McKamey. After multiple offenses, the Humane Educational Society can issue a citation to the owners or take repeat offenders to court.
But is it legal to kill a stray?
If a person can prove that a strange dog was a threat to them or their livestock or other pets on their private property, they are legally allowed to shoot it, Snyder said.
"In cases where people get upset, that's not unusual," said Phillip Snyder, executive director of the Humane Educational Society. "We do get calls when there are dogs going after chickens or livestock or are on people's property."
His organization serves the unincorporated areas of Hamilton County outside of the city limits, including some of the county's more rural areas such as Soddy-Daisy, where folks can be more apt to let their animals run free in the countryside. They often pick up loose or stray dogs, respond to calls from neighbors, and track down and treat injured animals.
Animal shelters and animal control agencies serving residents of Chattanooga:
— McKamey Animal Center, 4500 N. Access Road, Chattanooga, 423-305-6500
— The Pet Placement Center/Tennessee Humane Animal League, 5975 Dayton Blvd., Chattanooga, 423-877-0738
Serving residents of Hamilton County:
— The Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga, 212 N. Highland Park Ave., Chattanooga, 423-624-5302
Serving residents of East Ridge:
— East Ridge Animal Services, 1015 Yale St., East Ridge, 423)-664-0271
Serving residents of Signal Mountain:
— Signal Mountain Police Department, 423-886-2123
Serving residents of Lookout Mountain:
— Lookout Mountain Police Department, 423-821-3151
Serving residents of Bradley County:
— SPCA of Bradley County, 1570 Johnson Blvd. SE, Cleveland, TN, 423-790-1915
Serving residents of the City of Cleveland:
— Cleveland Animal Control, 360 Hill St. SE, Cleveland, 423-479-2122
Serving residents of Catoosa County, GA:
— Catoosa County Animal Control, 101 Allmond Trail, Ringgold, GA, 706-935-2454
Serving residents of Walker County, GA:
— Walker County Animal Shelter, 5118 N. Marble Top Road, Chickamauga, GA, 706-375-2100
Serving residents of Dade County, GA:
— Dade Animal Resource Team, 423-413-6420
Serving residents of Marion County, TN:
— Marion Animal Resource Connection, email@example.com
Snyder said shooting strays is not something the shelter encourages. In fact, he said, they have responded to instances in which animals were shot and didn't die, causing them to suffer.
"We see more of that than we would like," he added.
Animal services officials picked up a wounded dog this week that had most likely been shot, he said.
But he acknowledged there are problem dogs in the area.
"We do get a lot of dangerous dogs, dogs that have done some serious harm to individuals," Snyder said.
He added that there is an appetite locally for stricter rules that keep animals from posing a safety risk to people, but also protect the welfare of the animals themselves.
And rural areas of the county aren't the only places that seem to struggle with the problem.
Almost anyone who belongs to a neighborhood page on Facebook, Nextdoor.com or other online forums is likely familiar with the frequent "Lost dogs!" or "Dog found" posts.
Sometimes, neighbors will report pet sightings and others will comment with names of the owners, tag their neighbors or brush off such a sighting as routine.
On some neighborhood pages, frequent offenders (the animals mostly) are noted, or folks will post that they put in a call to McKamey Animal Center, which serves areas inside Chattanooga city limits as well as Red Bank and Lakesite, or the Humane Educational Society.
Neighborhoods across the county have been debating the issue.
Most recently, residents in Signal Mountain and St. Elmo have been dealing with animals deemed a public nuisance, and even reports of packs of sometimes vicious, roaming dogs.
Signal Mountain town officials began working to differentiate between a vicious dog and a public nuisance in the town's regulations in November after an incident in which a resident was walking her 13-week-old puppy on a leash when a free-roaming dog attacked and killed the puppy.
Town Manager Boyd Veal said at the time that residents can report situations involving vicious dogs to the Humane Educational Society or the Signal Mountain Police Department, both of which keep records of those reports and share them with each other. He noted that incidents such as this one are rare, but surrounding counties including Bradley and Marion and areas of North Georgia have also tightened vicious dog ordinances in recent years.
Signal Mountain's police department, like the town of Lookout Mountain's, handles animal-related incidents within its jurisdiction; East Ridge also has its own animal services department.
Other areas of the county outside of Chattanooga city limits and Red Bank are traditionally handled by the Humane Educational Society, but all agencies are supposed to share records of reports with the appropriate agencies.
Humane society groups have a public safety obligation not to adopt out a dog known to be dangerous, Snyder said, and therefore they investigate any report of a dog biting a person or animal.
He cautions people to be careful when they spot a loose or stray dog roaming their neighborhood.
While it is helpful if you can confine the dog so it is still there and easily picked up when the Humane Educational Society or McKamey is called, it's important to use common sense, Snyder said.
"Don't put yourself in harm's way."
Down in Mississippi, Stricker says Nymeria's body was never returned to him.
"He dumped the collar and the letter, I wish they would have left the body to give me some kind of closure," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.