WEST VALLEY CITY — On a 5-acre parcel ringed by houses, students at Roots Charter High School attempt to address real-world problems on a working farm using book learning and know-how gained by cultivating crops, raising livestock, even keeping bees.
Since June, they have also learned multiple lessons about predators as a feral dog has repeatedly killed livestock raised by students at the school, some of the animals they owned themselves.
Xander Hemmert, a senior who was part of the charter school's inaugural class when it opened in 2016, said Roots students "were just in shock that our animals were attacked and we didn't even know it was a dog."
As the attacks continued, students started spending nights on the farm to protect their livestock and alert animal control officers of the dog's return.
The attacks are attributed to a feral dog described as an Akita-German shepherd mix.
The dog reportedly belonged to a homeless person who lived in the area but recently passed away, said school Director Taylor Bastian.
Some people in the neighborhood have been feeding the dog, "and that's not helping," Bastian said.
According to Hemmert, some neighbors said they feed the dog because they want to help capture it while others "see it just as a dog and not thousands of dollars of loss and emotional trauma to students who have lost animals."
The losses have been frustrating for the students because they feel as though their hands are tied in attempting to control the dog, Hemmert said.
"Even though it's a farm property, we still can't shoot a projectile on the property even if something's threatening our livestock," he said.
West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow, who toured the school's farm Tuesday along with Kerry Gibson, deputy director of the state Division of Natural Resources, said the state and other municipalities have pledged to work with the city's animal services officers to capture the dog.
West Valley animal services officers have thus far been unable to capture the dog because it is accustomed to running free.
"They pull up and stop and the dog is off like a shot," Bigelow said.
Bigelow said the West Valley City Council will discuss the issue during its meeting Tuesday night.
"It needs to come to an end," Bigelow said.
Since June, two alpacas, two goats and two sheep have been killed. A piglet that was attacked recently had to be euthanized on Tuesday, Bastian said. The dog does not eat the animals it kills.
"When an animal dies, it greatly affects their educational experience," Bastian said.
Gibson said the Division of Natural Resource has larger traps and can help capture the dog by providing additional manpower to surround the dog the next time it is spotted.
It appears that the this particular dog "got a taste of blood and is killing for sport at this point. It takes off after an attack," Gibson said.
Bastian said all of the school's 180 students spend time working on the farm, with some more involved than others. The school plans to evolve into a farm-to-table experience for students, he said.
The school has an active Future Farmers of America chapter and a several students showed livestock at this summer's Salt Lake County Fair and sold their animals in the fair's junior livestock auction.
As the school year gets underway and the dog attacks continue, some students who own livestock are keeping them elsewhere, which increases the cost and time required for their care.
The farm's fencing is "obviously, inadequate," Bastian said. The school has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to improve fencing, replace students' animals, cover costs of veterinary care and purchase "herd-protecting animals to keep other livestock safe."
Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said he hopes that drawing attention to the attacks will help educate neighbors and the public how they can best help.
When Roots Charter High School opened, he met a student who had been arrested multiple times. Since enrolling in Roots, he hasn't been arrested once.
"It says there's something important happening here," Van Tassell said.