A Pennsylvania deer farmer was found guilty of one count of aggravated cruelty to animals during a Feb. 8 court case in Tioga County.
A jury found Jason Stefanowicz, of Middlebury Center, guilty of one count but not guilty on a second animal cruelty charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 20.
The case stems from an incident on Sept. 27, 2020, when Stefanowicz witnessed two of his neighbor’s German shepherds chasing his captive deer from the outside of the pen. Stefanowicz owns Awesome Whitetails and raises deer for breeding stock and hunting preserves.
Stefanowicz testified prior attempts to chase the dogs away didn’t work, including a warning shot, and one of his captive bucks got its antlers stuck in the fence and the dogs started biting the animal through the wire. Other deer inside the pen were injuring themselves as they rammed into the fence, Stefanowicz said.
He stated he shot the dogs to protect his livestock — deer — and then asked his wife to call police to report the incident. Stefanowicz also testified that several deer in the pens sustained injuries as they panicked from the dogs. One deer died after the incident as it smashed into the fence and suffered a broken neck, he said.
Tioga County District Attorney Krista Deats prosecuted the case and argued there was no direct evidence the dogs caused the injuries to the deer, nor were they inside the enclosure. Deats acknowledged the dogs were harassing the deer by running around the perimeter of the fence, but since they couldn’t get to the deer inside the pen, Deats said, they couldn’t capture, overtake or kill them.
Deats said Stefanowicz had other options instead of shooting the dogs.
After he was found guilty on one of two counts of aggravated animal cruelty, Stefanowicz said he requested a retrial. If a retrial isn’t granted, he said, he will appeal the verdict.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s dog law permits an individual to shoot a dog if it’s attacking their livestock, and it specifically lists cervids.
“I have contacted legislators about this but haven’t heard back,” Stefanowicz said on March 15, days before his sentencing. “I am trying to get farmers to speak on my behalf at the sentencing because this will ultimately affect every farmer who defends their livestock against dogs.”