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Pen-raised whitetail deer are domestic animals, under Missouri law

If a court told me that I had to kill my dog for killing a deer, I’d be upset. But it could happen.

When a dog kills or maims a “domestic animal” in Missouri,  the statutory penalties (section 273.020 RSMo) are harsh. The owner or keeper of the bad dog is liable for the full amount of monetary damages and is obligated to kill the bad dog. But can whitetail deer be considered domestic animals?

Three dogs, alleged to have been owned by Lange, broke into Oak Creek’s pen and killed 21 bucks, does and fawns, all hand-raised and kept for the ultimate purpose of creating bucks with massive racks. When Oak Creek sued Lange, Lange asked the court to rule, in a motion for summary judgment, that the words “sheep and other domestic animals” in section 273.020 applied to livestock typically raised on farms, such as cattle, swine, chickens and horses.

The Missouri court of appeals in Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch v. Lange disagreed with the Osage County trial judge, looking to a dictionary definition, which included the phrase “which have been domesticated by man so as to live and breed in a tame condition.” The court of appeals noted that the slain deer had never been in the wild, but “were all penned and hand-fed, raised in an environment that did not allow them to move freely beyond their confined area.”  The court’s logic is apparently that whether an animal (other than a sheep) is domestic is determined by the individual animal’s status, not the species. Oak Creek’s deer were apparently defenseless in their confinement, unable to flee and perhaps unable to survive in the wild. Cats, dogs and hogs often become feral, regardless of their previous condition of confinement.

The offspring of breeding stock, such as those killed in Oak Creek’s pen, are apparently not domestic animals when placed on game ranches to be killed by trophy-seeking hunters, who pay handsomely for the privilege of slaughtering them. You can see an example of the ideal rack on the Farming for Wildlife website.

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