Benjamin Ruvalcaba was the latest goat owner to lose part of his flock to a pack of wild dogs, which have been responsible for more than 200 livestock deaths in French Camp since Friday.
The pack injured five goats on Wednesday. When San Joaquin County Sheriff's deputies and animal control officers responded around 2 a.m., they decided that their wounds were too severe for the goats to survive.
So in Ruvalcaba's front yard, they shot and killed all five.
Ruvalcaba, though, doesn't believe all the goats needed to be killed, and he's upset that the Sheriff's department didn't consult him before using force.
"I don't think animal control should have shot the goats," Ruvalcaba said. "I was really upset. Some weren't going to die, and they shot them."
A neighbor saw members of the Sheriff's department shooting the wounded goats and called Ruvalcaba early Wednesday morning.
When he arrived, the goats were dead.
According to Ruvalcaba, animal control told him that the goats were lying down and dying. He lost $1,000 worth of goats.
"They were laying down because the dogs were chasing them and they were tired," Ruvalcaba said.
Animal control also said they didn't have enough euthanasia and had to use a shotgun, Ruvalcaba said. Ruvalcaba, who administers medicine to the goats and tends to all injuries, examined the dead goats. He said two goats suffered severe wounds, but three were only bit once on the leg.
"What pissed me off is that animal control should have checked the goats before they shot them," Ruvalcaba said.
In San Joaquin County, an animal control officer or Sheriff's deputy will make the decision whether or not to shoot an injured animal, said Deputy Les Garcia, spokesman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office.
Garcia said he'd been unable to examine the specific incident on Ruvalcaba's property.
But he said that in similar cases, if an animal looks like it might not survive, the deputy or animal control officer on-scene will call for a vet.
However, veterinarians aren't always available, especially at 2 a.m., when the dogs attacked Ruvalcaba's goats. In those cases, the officer on-scene calls his watch commander, gets approval to dispatch the animal, and shoots it to death with his firearm.
Ruvalcaba is also upset that the Sheriff's department never contacted him before killing his goats.
But Garcia said sometimes an animal needs to be shot immediately.
"Sometimes you can't wait," Garcia said. "What are you going to do? Let the animal suffer? If there's an animal you see there, you make the call. And if the decision was that the animal was suffering, I'd think the animal's owner — and I'm talking in general terms — wouldn't want their pet or animal to suffer."
It's fairly uncommon for livestock to be killed by an animal control officer, said David Dickinson, director of Sacramento County Animal Care. He can think of fewer than 10 instances in the past year, though the numbers are not tracked or reported.
"If its injuries are life-threatening or fatal, the animal can be field dispatched to prevent suffering," he said.
It is up to the owner to determine how badly the animal is hurt, whether it's suffering, and whether a visit to the vet would improve matters, he said.
"Whenever you have an animal owned by someone, before you take its life, the officer will make all efforts to contact them," Dickinson said. "If the owner was there, they probably, certainly should have discussed it first. It's his animal. He needs to make the decision. "
If the animal's owner is not around, the officer will call a local vet to come out, check on the animal, and perhaps euthanize the animal with a lethal injection.
Sometimes, injured livestock in rural locales are too far from a veterinarian to wait for help. In that case, it is up to the officer to make the decision to end the animal's life.
"If the animal is obviously suffering, it's torn up pretty bad, it's more humane to put it out right away," Dickinson said. That decision would warrant a call back to headquarters to check with a supervisor.
Some officers carry supplies for a lethal injection in their vehicle and are trained to euthanize large livestock like horses and cows. Smaller creatures, like goats and sheep, can be shot to death with the officer's firearm.
Using an injection is the most humane way to end an animal's life, said Patricia Davidson, director of the Delta Humane Society, a no-kill animal shelter in Stockton.
"If it has to be done, for whatever reason, then a vet will make that call," she said. "I would hate to make that decision myself. Once in a while an animal is so far gone, most people would know by looking at it."
While the Delta Humane Society is not connected with San Joaquin County Animal Control, Davidson said she has worked with their officers before and trusts their judgment.
"They're animal lovers. If a decision has to be made, they probably assessed it the best they can," she said.
After an officer ends an animal's life, its remains are usually transported to the county animal shelter in a dog catcher's truck, then send to a rendering plant.
After killing the goats, animal control told Ruvalcaba they didn't have enough room in their truck for the carcasses. So on Thursday, Ruvalcaba was forced to bury them in his yard.
Dickinson has never heard of a rancher being compensated for the loss of an animal at the hands of an animal control officer, though it may be possible through court proceedings.
Ruvalcaba plans to contact the county about the incident. Garcia said it's possible the county could compensate someone whose animal was killed by animal control.
"You have to take the totality of the circumstances and figure that out," Garcia said.