A Sunnyside couple was traumatized earlier this week when a killer dog claimed the lives of what they refer to as four members of their family.
Despite a five-foot fence, a large orange-colored dog somehow managed to get into the paddock with a group of female alpacas and their young.
While the guard llama gathered most of the alpacas into a corner for protection, some of the herd faced off against the dog. One cria, a baby alpaca, followed its mother while she attempted to protect her herd.
By the time Anthony Podvin, son of the owners of the alpacas, realized something was wrong and reached the paddock, the dog had severely injured three pregnant females, bitten two other females and practically ripped apart the cria.
As Podvin approached, he watched the dog manage to jump back over the fence after several tries and run away, along with a Labrador that had not entered the paddock.
Silbury Hill Alpacas of Sunnyside lost the three females and cria in the Monday morning attack. Although the creatures were still alive when Podvin arrived, the damage was too severe. All four animals had to be put down. Two others are recovering from their injuries.
"The worst thing is when I think about what they (the alpacas) were thinking as the dog attacked," said Bob Cathel, co-owner of the farm. He noted that other breeders thought Cathel was doing everything right.
"Most breeders said four-foot fences would be enough," he said. "We just thought five feet would be more secure."
Both Cathel and his wife Danise were away from the farm when the attack happened. Danise Cathel had just arrived at a conference, but turned around in the parking lot after receiving the news.
For the Cathels, the alpacas are almost family members. Each one has a name and a personality. The loss of four animals in such a vicious manner was a shock.
"We were supposed to go to Vermont and start introducing ourselves on the East Coast," said Danise Cathel.
"We would be on the plane right now," she said yesterday morning.
But they couldn't leave until they knew the rest of the herd would be safe. The first night after the attack they set up a baby monitor in the paddock and tried to patrol the area all night.
"When Danise came back at midnight, she said she couldn't see anything," said her husband. "And we could hear everything on the monitor, even the wind blowing."
They've used the monitor constantly since.
The family is also discussing getting a guard dog and training it to patrol the paddocks area. When they purchased the land, it came with a guard dog that patrolled until she passed away. But that solution is at least two years away due to the need to find the right dog and train it properly.
Talking about the attack is difficult for the family. But they want to raise awareness of the problem of dogs allowed to run loose.
"It's a matter of awareness and caring," said Danise Cathel. "While I don't like sharing this very sad news, I think it is an opportunity to remind everyone to continue to report all stray dogs to the local authorities."
The family is also concerned about the sheer viciousness of the attack. They worry that the dog that attacked their alpacas is still out there and might attack some other animal, or even worse, a human.
Bob Cathel noted that the alpacas they lost were worth about $31,000, not including the unborn babies, but he isn't worried about recouping that money as much as he is worried about the dog being at large.
"It's a vicious dog, and it needs to be put down," he said. "What if it goes after a jogger or a child next?"