Valley News – Jim Kenyon: NH, Vt. Police are still working to catch the dog accused of killing chickens

Ruby is still on the loose.

In a case ripe for a true crime podcast, a dog named Ruby (a country song in the making) is charged with a quadruple chicken homicide outside a Norwich home.

So far, no eyewitnesses have materialized in the case. Video evidence is also lacking. A home security system, however, picked up the audio of the attack. On the recording, there is the sound of chickens moaning and a dog barking. A female voice is then heard calling “Ruby”.

It’s not a lot, but that hasn’t stopped Norwich Police from launching an interstate investigation.

Eric Picconi, a Spanish teacher and cross-country coach at Hannover Secondary School, returned home the afternoon of Nov. 15 to find three hens dead and another with fatal injuries in his chicken coop. family. (A fifth hen survived, but her clucking didn’t help the police much.)

Three days after the attack – enough time for Ruby’s owner to apologize and offer restitution – Picconi had still heard nothing. So he wrote about the disappearance of his chickens on the Norwich Listserv. After his very first message on the mailing list, he received about 15 messages from people offering help. But not a word from Ruby’s owner.

“I suspect the publicity makes them more reluctant to come forward,” Picconi told me Thursday.

I have no idea how this thriller will end. I’m just relieved that the Upper Valley is talking about something other than Target coming to West Lebanon.

“They’ve probably renamed the dog by now,” one Norwich resident joked when I mentioned the dead chickens.

Upper Valley Facebook and Norwich Listserv followers posted with fervor. Some have shared their own canine-poultry encounters that ended badly. Others insist that the blame lies not with Ruby but with the irresponsible owner. Then there are the social media commentators who theorize the real villain was a feral predator. (A fox, an owl, or maybe even Ricky the raccoon?) In this storyline, after falling into the gruesome scene, Ruby takes the fall.

I’ve watched enough Hannibal Lecter movies to know that horrific cases can often only be solved with the help of an expert.

With that in mind, I called Paula Bergeron, owner of Good Dogma, a canine rehabilitation and training center in Grafton. She works with dogs that have a history of biting and other antisocial behavior.

Don’t assume Ruby is a cold-blooded killer, Bergeron warned. “He wouldn’t need to be a vicious dog,” she said. “There are dogs that are perfectly fine with chickens, but if a chicken gets startled and starts flapping its wings, that’s a big trigger for a lot of dogs.

“Many of our beloved dogs” are capable of getting carried away, added Bergeron.

As well as posting on the city mailing list, Picconi contacted Norwich Police. Since the city doesn’t have an animal control officer, it only made sense for the police to get involved. I just wish their answer hadn’t been so exaggerated.

When a review of Norwich’s dog license records turned up no likely suspects, the cops widened their net.

Picconi’s house on Turnpike Road adjoins the town recreation grounds at Huntley Meadow. It’s a popular spot for people who bring their dogs off leash. Since dog owners in the upper valley are known to frequent Huntley Meadow, I suspect the police thought Rudy might have been a trespasser.

Norwich Police have asked police in Hartford, Hanover and Lebanon to hand over the names and addresses of all dog owners who have licensed a Ruby or similar sounding name.

Expert: Norwich then went full throttle. A Lebanese woman said Valley News writer John Lippman that an officer from Norwich visited her home on a Sunday, wanting to know when she was last in Norwich.

It’s an old police trick. An armed officer shows up unannounced at a house, hoping to catch the resident off guard so that he spills the kibble. It’s even better if the resident opens the door enough for the cops to look inside the house. They might glimpse incriminating evidence that could then persuade a judge to grant a search warrant. In that case, a dog burping feathers or a KFC bucket near a dog bowl?

The “knock and talk”, as it is called in police jargon, came to nothing this time around. The Lebanese woman – and her standard poodle Ruby – had an airtight alibi.

Why are the police spending so much time and effort on the case?

Particularly where the Norwich Animal Control Ordinance treats offenses involving off-leash dogs as a civil matter. In addition to paying a fine of $50 to $100 to the municipality, the owner of a dog that has become feral could be required to pay “just compensation” to the owner of the domestic or farm animals attacked.

On Friday afternoon, I spoke with Acting Chief Constable Simon Keeling, who assured me that his three-officer department was not going to give up on tracking down the culprit’s landlord.

“I don’t see it as a small feat,” he said. “Someone’s property has been destroyed.”

The dog’s owner needs to be honest and make amends to Picconi and his family, Keeling said.

I am okay.

But in what could only be called small-town news, the chief also told me that he hadn’t ruled out turning the case into a criminal one.

How is it possible ?

Since it looks like Ruby’s owner went to Picconi’s property to look for her dog, she (the owner, not Ruby) could be arrested for trespassing.

“I would rather we didn’t have to go the criminal route, but that’s potentially where we’re headed,” Keeling said.

It seems a bit extreme.

Then again, the week-long drama that the deaths of four chickens produced is a reminder that even with a target, the upper valley is still a big little town.

Jim Kenyon can be contacted at [email protected]

Elizabeth J. Harless