A jury has awarded a Central Oregon rancher $246,500 from two hunters who shot and killed three Great Pyrenees livestock protection dogs.
Brothers Paul Johnson of Roseburg and Craig Johnson of Bend were previously convicted of killing three Great Pyrenees livestock protection dogs owned by rancher Gordon Clark.
Craig Johnson is a retired Oregon State Police officer.
The jury awarded Clark $7,500 for the replacement value of the dogs, $100,000 for emotional harm and $139,500 in punitive damages.
Clark, who owns and operates the historic Hay Creek Ranch 11 miles east of Madras, Ore., said he was relieved that the 3 1/2-year ordeal was over.
The shootings, which took place Aug. 27, 2012, happened on a grazing allotment in the Ochoco National Forest that Clark has used for the last 20 years.
“It was about 9:30 in the morning and my herder was routinely moving about 1,060 ewes from one camp to another,” Clark said. “Suddenly someone opened fire and started killing the dogs.”
He said the area was posted and the dogs all had collars that gave his contact information and an explanation of the work they were doing.
“My herder had no idea what was happening, except that someone was shooting at them. He was scared because bullets were ricocheting all around him,” Clark said. “The sheep were fleeing away from the shooters. He called my camp tender about 3 o’clock and said someone is shooting our dogs.”
The camp tender went to the scene and called Clark, who then called the Crook County Sheriff’s Office.
Not to be confused with herding dogs that are trained to follow the commands of their master, Great Pyrenees work independently. At about seven to eight weeks the pups are put in a sheep pen, where they stay without any other dogs for two to three months. From the sheep pen, they go out with the herder and begin a working life. The value of a trained guard dog is about $2,500.
The Johnson brothers, who deputies identified as the shooters, were bow hunting in an area where grazing sheep, guard dogs and campers have co-existed for decades, Clark said. In addition to their bow hunting equipment they carried a .223-caliber rifle and a Glock pistol.
They first denied they knew anything about seeing sheep, then said they thought the dogs were chasing elk and finally claimed they thought their lives were in danger, according to Clark.
Clark had nothing but praise for the Crook County Sheriff’s Office and his attorney.
“Deputy Brian Bottoms and attorney Greg Lynch were unstoppable,” Clark said. “In the beginning, the Johnson brothers were only given probation, a year-long ban from hunting, $500 fine, 80 hours community service and a forfeit of firearms,” Clark said. “Had Deputy Bottoms not continued to gather hard evidence in the face of all the false testimony, we wouldn’t have the brothers’ footprints that were mingled with the sheep prints and the bullets that matched their rifle.”
Lynch, Clark’s attorney, also praised the sheriff’s office and said he did not think the defendants would appeal.
“The trial judge did a superb job in addressing all legal issues in the case during the pre-trial phase and again at trial in motions for summary judgment ... and in finalizing the jury instructions,” Lynch said. “In addition, to avoid execution on the judgment pending an appeal, the defendants would have to post a special bond which would guarantee payment of the judgment after a failed appeal, something I would love to see them do but (is) very unlikely.”
Efforts to reach the lawyers for the Johnsons were unsuccessful.
“It has been emotionally draining for me and especially for my Peruvian herder,” Clark said. “The sad thing is the loss of those particular people-friendly dogs that you could walk up to and pet. In the 20 years we’ve worked our allotment, the dogs and campers have happily mingled and the campers loved it. To see the dogs so senselessly slaughtered, however, goes beyond the value as a working animal.”
Clark said he plans to donate money left over after litigation costs to the Crook County Spay Neuter Investment Project Inc.