Emotion overcomes Joy C. McDonald each time she pauses to think about what her future might hold.
She could lose her job, her small rented home and custody of her three children — all because her two little dogs supposedly scared a neighbor’s elderly chicken to death.
According to McDonald, the penned bird apparently suffered a heart attack when her two Chihuahuas barked at it while running loose in their rural Lafayette County neighborhood.
A chicken heart attack?
Actually, court records accuse the dogs of killing the chicken but don’t describe how. The bird’s owner refused to recount his version of events to The Star. The Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office released only the department’s incident log, which confirms deputies were called to investigate April 5. And the county prosecutor is saying little because the case remains unsettled.
“There are photos with a poor dead chicken and feathers everywhere,” said Lafayette County Prosecutor Kellie Wingate Campbell.
The 29-year-old McDonald faces a misdemeanor charge of animal abuse for not controlling her Chihuahuas — Peaches and Domino — that together weigh about 5 pounds, or about as much as the average chicken sold for slaughter in Missouri last year.
If convicted, McDonald could be sent to the county jail for a year or be fined as much as $1,000, or face both penalties.
“I think this is asinine,” said McDonald, who lives just east of Odessa. “I just can’t wrap my mind around it. All of this because of a dead chicken.”
Her ordeal began with an unsettling phone call McDonald said she received from her angry neighbor, George Gamblin, in early April.
He called “screaming and cussing that his chicken was dead because my dog was barking at them,” McDonald recalled. “He said my dogs were giving him a headache.”
McDonald said she asked Gamblin if he was sure that her dogs were the culprits.
“I might have said it with a little smile because I thought it was asinine and that I was holding back (from laughing),” she said.
That only upset Gamblin further, she said.
“He’s still cussing and screaming, saying I wasn’t taking it serious enough,” McDonald said. “So eventually I hung up on him.”
According to court records, a sheriff’s deputy was summoned to the Gamblins’ residence in the 9800 block of U.S. 40.
Gamblin led the deputy to the chicken enclosure, where they found a white, lifeless chicken sprawled on the ground. Gamblin told the deputy that his wife “loves the chickens,” which are her pets. She had heard noises in their pen and saw the two dogs inside it, court records say. She chased them with a stick, but they escaped through the fence.
McDonald told authorities she had offered to give Gamblin $30 as compensation. But according to court records, Gamblin turned it down and insisted on pursuing criminal charges.
Her dogs may be playful at times but are not cold-blooded killers, said McDonald, who now has an outside kennel for her dogs.
Campbell said the animal abuse charge applies when people allow their animals to run loose and cause a nuisance to other people.
“When you see this kind of case, especially in a rural county, there are other contributing factors,” Campbell said.
Campbell didn’t elaborate because the case is working its way through the county courts system.
Gamblin refused to give specifics and didn’t return several phone calls from a reporter or answer his door when a reporter knocked.
But in one brief phone conversation he did say, “All I did was make a complaint with the sheriff and they turned it over to the prosecuting attorney and that’s all I know.”
The value of a pet chicken is unclear, but the average chicken sold for slaughter in Missouri last year brought $2.62, according to data kept by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
McDonald said she has owned Peaches, a white and brown female, for almost six years. Domino, a black and white male, has been around for almost two years. Since the incident, McDonald has built a pen to house the dogs.
An irritating bark is part of a Chihuahua’s DNA.
Chickens, on the other hand, are fragile creatures and are susceptible to heart attacks or collapsing from stress, said Jeff Firman, a professor of poultry science at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
“I don’t know if I would call it a heart attack, but if you had a dog chasing around a chicken and the dog never touches the chicken, it could die from just being stressed out and running around,” Firman said.
The only way to find out how the chicken died is to conduct an autopsy, he said.
“Of course, nobody does unless they (chickens) die in big groups,” he said.
McDonald said she appeared in court in June. She expected to pay a fine after pleading guilty. That quickly changed when the judge insisted she fully understand the charge.
The rest of the story is likely to play out next month when McDonald returns to the Lafayette County Courthouse.
“I thought it was a little humorous until I found what the charges were, and now it isn’t so funny anymore.” McDonald said.