Ask most Americans and they will tell you that laws are supposed to be enforced. Local law enforcement isn’t supposed to play favorites or selectively enforce the law. Or, even worse, make up their own laws because they don’t like someone – maybe someone who has dogs.
That would seem to be what’s happening in Flathead County, Montana. Montana, Big Sky country, where most of us imagine is ground zero for the “land of the free.” But Brandi Peerman and her family are being bullied by her neighbors and local government because they have two livestock guardian dogs who do what they were bred to do.
Brandi, her four children (including a newborn), and her husband, moved from California to Whitefish, Montana about a year and a half ago. They bought a 16-acre property now known as Peerman Family Farm just outside the city limits to take up farming; and opened a farm-to-table restaurant called The Farmhouse Inn and Kitchen nearby. They also home school their children and keep goats, sheep, pigs, cows, chickens and raise other agricultural items on their farm. The farm has ¼ mile of the Stillwater river running through it so it attracts plenty of wildlife, including a herd of elk, grizzlies, and mountain lions. There is always a significant concern about predators in their area. Accordingly, the Peerman’s own two Caucasian Ovcharka, a livestock guardian dog breed that has been kept by farmers and ranchers for centuries specifically to protect their livestock. Kodiak and Elsa, the Peerman’s two Caucasian Ovcharka, keep the bears, big cats, and coyotes away from the Peerman’s flocks. They also have a Labrador Retriever named Angus.
Unfortunately, the Peermans’ have a neighbor who has complained about Kodiak and Elsa’s barking. (Angus doesn’t bark.) A few months ago an animal control officer (part of the sheriff’s department in Flathead county) showed up at their door and gave them a citation for the dogs barking.
Now, if this happened in a suburban neighborhood, it might not be one thing. But in Montana there is a state law that says livestock guardian dogs are exempt from local barking dog ordinances.
7-23-2110. Barking dog control Click here
The governing body of a county may, by adoption of an ordinance that substantially complies with 7-5-103 through 7-5-107, regulate barking dogs. An ordinance adopted pursuant to this section may not apply to a dog that is owned, kept, or harbored as part of the business of a licensed veterinarian, animal boarding facility, or agricultural or livestock operation.
Flathead county also has an ordinance that says livestock guardian dogs are exempt from barking dog ordinances. These dogs are doing their job to protect animals on the farm – an agricultural business. Barking is part of their job. The Peermans’ livelihood depends on successfully raising their animals without predators killing them. So, how is it that a local animal control officer – part of the county sheriff’s department – is issuing them a citation for barking dogs?
When Brandi spoke to someone at the Flathead county sheriff’s department, she was told, “If enough people complain then there has to be an exception to the laws.” She was told that if her neighbor continues to complain, they will continue to cite her family for barking dogs.
Animal control and the sheriff’s department are well aware of what the state and county laws say about livestock guardian dogs being exempt from barking dog laws. They are simply ignoring the laws so they can do what they want to do.
Because their attorney was out of town, the Peermans had to go to court with a substitute attorney and they lost the first round of this case. The judge, also ignoring state and county laws, issued a trial date. They would have had to pay upwards of $10,000 in legal fees to fight the case or pay $35, plead guilty – and give up their livestock guardian dogs. Dissatisfied with their lawyer’s advice, they fired him and hired a new attorney. Their new attorney has been able to arrange an omnibus hearing to have the matter re-opened.
According to Brandi Peerman, she has heard from other farmers in the area who say that they have also been pressured into giving up their livestock guardian dogs despite the laws that protect them in Montana. Brandi speculates that the animal control officer who cited her is friends with the neighbor who made the complaint about her dogs since she has seen his vehicle at their house several times.
Just to make sure that the dogs were not being too loud, Brandi set up a decibel meter to measure how loud the dogs were when they barked. It wasn’t loud. The Peerman’s have a newborn and the baby doesn’t even wake up when the dogs are barking.
It’s a mystery why the neighbor has complained about the dogs since the barking doesn’t really seem to be a problem. It’s also a mystery why the animal control officer is citing farmers for barking livestock guardian dogs when they are protected under state and county law. You have to wonder if people in the area are harassing newcomers or if the neighbor has some designs on the Peermans’ property for himself.
The Peermans and others in the area have a right to farm. Shouldn’t local authorities be encouraging agricultural businesses instead of bullying them? Should animal control and the sheriff’s department, not to mention the court, be upholding state and local laws instead of ignoring them?
The Peermans are members of the Montana Wool Growers Association as well as The Cavalry Group so they have backup. There are a lot of farmers and ranchers, not to mention dog owners, who will be watching how this story plays out in Montana.
It is up to authorities to uphold the Rule of Law, not interpret the law to suit their agenda. That is the real concern in Whitefish, Montana and all across America today.
Carlotta Cooper is vice president of Sportsmens’ & Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance and a Team Member and regular contributing writer for The Cavalry Group, a member-based company working to defend the private property rights of animal owners and animal enterprise nationwide. Follow The Cavalry Group on Facebook, MeWe, Instagram, and Twitter.