A human-bear tragedy in Yellowstone

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“Blaze” & cub in 2011; Amy Gerber photo. Click image for more photos.

A 63-year-old male hiker is dead, killed and partially consumed by a grizzly bear while hiking in Yellowstone National Park. A 259-pound mother grizzly, who was at least 15 years old, is also dead, killed by the caretakers of her home in Yellowstone National Park. Her two female cubs-of-the-year, likely seven or eight months old, are dead insofar as their ability to live wild, free-ranging lives goes; they’ve been shipped off to the Toledo Zoo for lifetime incarceration.

It was the hiker–a man referred to by the media as “an experienced hiker”–who set this string of tragedies in motion by breaking cardinal rules for hiking in griz country: he hiked alone, off trail, without bear spray. While acknowledging that his tragic death has left a grieving human family, his apparent lack of regard for the safety measures that could have saved his life as well as the bears’ lives is squarely responsible. Bears do what bears do for their own reasons. When we enter their home, it’s up to us to do so with respect and humility.

Having backpacked in grizzly country, I can tell you first-hand it’s a humbling experience to enter the Great Bear’s home. Safety recommendations are fervently observed–we’ve enlisted another couple to join us (groups of three or more are rarely bothered); kept spotless camps with bear-proof food canisters hung from trees; and carried multiple canisters of bear spray for our group. Upon hiking out to Yellowstone’s south entrance the last morning of one multi-day trip, we found ourselves walking on fresh griz tracks imprinted in the trail’s damp footbed. We HEY BEARed ourselves hoarse while one of us–loudly and repeatedly–sang a few bars from the Isley Brothers (it’s a wonder I wasn’t mauled by my own companions). On another trip, just two of us this time, our planned route on the Beartooth Plateau was scrapped when we spied fresh tracks heading out on the same trail we’d planned to travel. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Sadly, we can’t ask the hiker who was killed–a seasonal park employee–why he chose to hike alone and without bear spray. We’ll never know if he called out to announce his presence or if he walked silently, startling the bear into action. We can’t know why this mom grizzly, a ferocious protector of cubs but one with no prior record of conflicts, partially consumed and cached the body:

And therein lies the crux: the consumption of the victim. According to a long, investigative piece in Slate Magazine,

In July of 2011, a grizzly sow with cubs killed a hiking tourist in Yellowstone (hiker error figured into this fatality, also; watch a computer-generated reenactment of that attack here), but that mom’s action was deemed strictly defensive–she immediately retreated–and her life spared. Some seven weeks later and eight miles away from the July fatality, a lone hiker was killed, partially consumed, and apparently cached. DNA testing revealed that the same bear was at least present at the scene; she was captured and killed, her cubs doomed to diminished lives in captivity (view a timeline of these events).

Yellowstone personnel don’t want to kill bears–I believe this–they act as they believe they must to mitigate risk for the three-plus million visitors who flood into the park each year. It’s a good reminder that wildlife conservation–like all our other conflicted relationships with nonhuman animals–is premised on speciesism. Who are we to decree which animal behavior is natural (and acceptable) and which is unnatural (and unacceptable)? Why, we are the humans!–of course!

Predictably, social media is ablaze (view 1.8k comments here) with debate over the park’s decision to execute (execute, not “euthanize”) the bear, with commenters divided into three camps: those who believe the bear must be killed for her predatory behavior toward a human; those who maintain that the bear was only being a bear in her own home and should live; and the wafflers who want her to live but consider the consumption of a human too troubling. Some commenters in both the first and third groups cite the idea that bears develop a taste for human blood once they’ve imbibed and must be exterminated, but this has been dismissed by Chris Servheen, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator. “That’s for horror stories in movies,” he told Slate in 2012. “Bears don’t get a taste for human blood. There’s no studies that show that.”

Adding to the emotional drama of this particular human/bear tragedy is the fact that this grizzly was an oft-sighted and much-photographed bear with a fan base that had informally named her Blaze for the lighter patch of fur on her side (photos). A petition appealing for her life collected over 143,170 signatures; now that she’s dead,petitioners are focusing on the cubs, though I heard on the local news last night that they were already en route to Toledo, where today’s editorial in The Blade has this to say:

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Learn more:

  • Yellowstone National Park news release
  • “A Death in Yellowstone,” Slate Magazine, April 2, 2012
  • Marc Bekoff commentary in Psychology Today
  • Doug Peacock commentary, author of Grizzly Years: In search of the American wilderness
  • “Grizzly psychosis at the zoo: There’s no place like home,” blog post & 15-sec. video of orphaned bears from Montana sent to a small zoo where they exhibit repetitive, psychotic behavior.
  • “No country for old bears,” a piece from Oct. 2014 about an elderly Yellowstone bear extecuted by the state of Montana for his “history of conflict.”

Comment on this piece at Animal Blawg!

Steamed and boiled alive: Sentience won’t save crabs

NOAA photo

I’m steamed. Simmering. Approaching a boil. Turning red. Feeling crabby as all get-out.

Over what, you ask? Over crabs. Yeah, those funky, scuttling crustaceans. Not that I ever felt much affinity for crabs. They and their brethren seemed so alien–so lacking in mammalian familiarity (claws! shells! eye stalks!)–that it was hard to muster much of a connection. But that was then.

I’ve never eaten a crab in any form. In my pre-vegetarian days (they ended in ’85), I found the mere idea of eating fish and sea creatures revolting based on smell and weirdness alone. Nowadays, I’m revolted by the idea of eating any creature based on their will to live, their suffering, their sentience. Who am I to deprive them of their lives?

So there I was, lying in bed reading the AARP magazine the other night, eyelids drooping heavier by the minute. I paged past the Aretha Franklin interview (doesn’t she wear fur???); “Four Surgeries to Avoid” (just four? I hope to avoid ALL of ’em!); baby boomers who ride motorcycles (far out–cue up Steppenwolf!), and so on: the president’s upcoming 50th birthday, three decades of AIDS, then…boom! I was blindsided by cruelty-as-usual when I least expected it.

The article was “Eating Well: To Catch a Crab” (different title, online version). A series of little line drawings (print version only) tells me how to “pick” a blue crab: “1) Pull off legs. Pop tab on underbelly. 2) Pry off top shell. Remove porous lungs. 3) Snap body in half. Pick out meat.” I foundered at “pull off legs.” Right from the get-go.

Now fully awake, I spied the recipe: “Pour equal parts flat beer and white vinegar in a big pot with a steaming rack, then put live–always live–crabs layered with Old Bay above the rack. Top with a tight-fitting lid. Heat to steam. ” Yeah, I’m steamin’ by now, too. First off, what a helluva thing to do to a perfectly good beer.

Seriously though. I rubbed my eyes, thought maybe I’d drifted off and dreamt the whole sorry thing, but there it was, live crabs, “always live.” It took quite a while to fall asleep that night.

Crabs, like humans, are sentient. They have eyes, they see their world. They have a nervous system and a brain. A study out of Queen’s University (Ireland) found that crabs not only feel pain, but retain a memory of it. BBC News reports:

On the other hand, it will come as no surprise that a website dedicated to the role of animal research in medical science first touts crustaceans’ usefulness as biological research models, next cites their importance to food economies, and then references a Norwegian report concluding that, “…there is little knowledge about the capacity for sentience in crustaceans and that their nervous and sensory systems appear to be less developed than those of insects. While lobsters and crabs have some capacity for learning, it is unlikely that they can feel pain.”

Judge for yourself. “In his book Animal Liberation Peter Singer suggests two criteria which should be considered when attempting to ascertain if any animal is capable of suffering: ‘…the behaviour of the being, whether it writhes, utters cries, attempts to escape from the source of pain, and so on; and the similarity of the nervous system of the being to our own.’ ” ~from Sentience in Crustaceans at Think Differently About Sheep

Time to get down to brass tacks. But let me warn you, this is where things get extremely bizarre–as in, boiling crabs alive, on camera, to prove that they’re sentient. And why would anyone want to do that? Why, as a great selling point for Crustastun, “the world’s only compassionate stunning system for crabs and lobsters”! (Available in single stunner and batch stunner models.)

“Sentient behaviour of shore crabs being boiled – University of Bristol (UK),” the video is titled. “Research carried out by the University of Bristol has highlighted how long it can take for crabs to die when subjected to the gradual heating method, advocated by some chefs. The animals in the video(update: video seems to have been removed from website?! Here’s a substitute–rather gruesome at times, but the boiling pot is absent) do not die until their core body temperature reaches 34°C, which takes over six minutes.” (For the Celsius-impaired, 34 C equals 93 F.) Prepare yourself, Gentle Reader, for the writhing and frantic efforts to escape. Especially poignant is one crab’s attempt to hook his/her legs over the lip of the pot.

“Humane slaughter” is considered an oxymoron by those of us opposed to any slaughter. Yet the Crustastun is one more human endeavor that allows our species to maintain–with a pat on the back for our exceptional humanity–a status quo built on the institutional exploitation of other (read: lesser)species. Because animals can’t possibly value their lives the way humans do, once we’re off the hook for their suffering, we’re home free.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Bad Luck for the Bunny: Lab tested, fur farmed, footless

At first glance, the Chinese Lunar New Year and Easter have little in common. On second glance, a long-eared furry creature hops through both. Is it possible to celebrate a new year and wax sentimental about a candy-bearing bunny while ignoring the atrocities faced by the family Leporidae?

The Chinese new year arrived in February, and with it, the Sign of the Rabbit (hare, in China). People born under this sign are said to have many desirable personality traits–kindness, sensitivity, and graciousness; good luck is usually mentioned, too. The oh-so-lucky rabbit!

Speaking of luck, remember rabbit’s foot keychains? They were ubiquitous in American culture–I had one as a kid in the ’50s. It was dyed an unnatural color, had a metal cap, and a metal bead chain. (Why I had it, how I got it, what I thought of it–these details are lost in the haze of intervening decades. From today’s vantage point, the whole scene is inexplicable, disgusting, and bizarre.) Sorry to say, Amazon.com (and many others) still sells them–just in case you’d like to have a word with them about it. They were considered lucky talismans for humans–but for the rabbit, not so much.

Aside: Is it possible to exploit exploitation? You betcha, baby!

If you’ve ever seen undercover footage of fur farming, you know there are no lucky bunnies there, either. Now imagine fur farming in China (you’re on your own for this one; try googling rabbit fur farming China–just reading through the hits is horror enough). Animal protection laws are nonexistent, and although China has drafted animal protection legislation, it seems likely that it hasn’t been adopted.

Why must sentient creatures–beings with emotional lives, who feel pain, who suffer–endure such hideous existences? Why?

“Rabbit is a very popular and economic component fur type and features strongly in many ready-to-wear lines as well as in street fashion,” according to a spokesman for the Hong Kong Fur Federation. (He’s quoted in “Fur Flies Over Wearing of Skins in Chinese Year of Rabbit”–read it here.) “Rabbit is very versatile and easy to work with which makes it popular with ‘fashionistas’ around the world.”

Ah, yes, the fashionistas–and the bottom line.

Easter–at least my 1950s childhood version–was also a time when dime stores offered up live, baby chicks dyed pastel colors. Peeping up a storm, the fuzzy pink, green, and blue ones tumbled over each other in their glass-sided display case. It would be nice to think that this exploitive practice passed with those less enlightened times, but recent evidence shows otherwise. What? ‘Baby chick yellow’ just isn’t enough for our insatiable appetite for novelty? Leaving aside, of course, the larger question, why?–why should anyone dye and sell a living, sentient being as a seasonal novelty? (This makes you wonder what other nefarious eHow tutorials are lurking out there…)

But I digress. Getting back to those Sign of the Rabbit personality traits–another trait frequently mentioned is longevity. Luck and longevity. A fur farmed rabbit has neither, and in that particular instance, a short life is a merciful thing.

This post first appeared at the Animal Blawg and in shorter form in Other Nations February newsletter.

A Chicken Liberation Manifesto | Other Nations

United Poultry Concerns photo

“Yo, birdbrain!” “Hey, what are ya, a chicken?” Rather than taking offense to these common put-downs, I’m going to take them as compliments. Birds–let’s focus on chickens here–are smart. Social. Brave. They think and feel. In a lot of ways, they’re a lot like us. But it’s easy to forget that–if, indeed, we ever thought about it at all. Let’s think about it now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 is International Respect for Chickens Day, and the entire month of May is dedicated to growing greater respect for this much-abused, intensively factory farmed bird. Launched in 2005 by United Poultry Concerns (UPC), the day is designed “…to celebrate chickens and protest against the bleakness of their lives in farming operations.”

So how smart, social, and individual are chickens?

And this, from Dr. Chris Evans, professor of psychology at Macquarie University in Australia:

Mercy for Animals photo

This is bad news for industrial growers, who bank on us (literally and figuratively) seeing chickens as dumb, unthinking, unfeeling and, ultimately, meaningless as individuals. Times eight billion-plus.

It’s not wise to get too hung-up on intelligence, though (or that we share traits in common), when it’s actually sentience alone that matters. And chickens, unlike, say, chickpea plants, are sentient. New research shows that they display signs of empathy.

Let’s forego the litany of horrors endured by “layers” and “broilers” in factory farms. Most folks who are regulars at animals rights websites have the hateful facts seared into brains and hearts. But if you are new to exploring what you believe about the rights of animals, check here and here for details on the so-called life of an egg layer; for the painful, short life of a meat chicken, look here and here. If you prefer straight-forward narrative, try this and this.

When chickens were domesticated from jungle fowl, no one divined the modern factory farm of 8000 years hence. Those early southeast Asian wild fowl lived the good life, as nature intended: in a social setting arranged in a hierarchy (pecking order), scratching about in the sun, hunting insects, perching in leaves, dust bathing and just squawkin’ around. Mothers fearlessly protected precious chicks from predators. Today’s domestic chickens behave that way, too–when given the chance. But oh how slim that chance has become.

Dr. John Webster, author of Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden, calls the treatment of chickens raised for food “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” And we haven’t even mentioned the quarter billion male chicks ground up alive every year–worthless to the egg industry.

I entered “chicken wings” in a search engine and was nine pages in before I found a hit that didn’t pertain to eating (and it dealt with a lab experiment. Imagine having your body so thoroughly hijacked!) That little exercise drove home another point–about how corporate agendas shape our lives and rely on our continued, mindless participation to support their bottom line. To this end, and illustrating a perverse coupling of human appetites, I learned that an NFL lockout will “devastate” the wing industry. Bring it on!

A Chicken Liberation Manifesto for May 4th and beyond: Wings are for flapping! “De-beaking” is a word that should not exist. The ability to stand up straight, stretch out, and breathe fresh air are rights not to be withheld from any sentient creature–chicken, human, or otherwise. Empty the battery cages! Consign factory farming to a sad footnote in the human story. The question for our species should not be, “Breast or thigh?” but, “Suffering or compassion?”
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7 substitutes for eggs in baking: video here!
Update: The NFL lockout has been resolved.

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This post also appears at animal law blog, Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Which animals would St. Francis bless today?

You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the Blessing of the Animals offered by churches during October, usually near the Oct. 4th Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. In fact, non-Catholic denominations frequently conduct their own animal blessing services, and why not–what’s not to love?!? Heck, you don’t even have to be religious to find beauty in this simple, compassionate gesture.

Francis started life in the one per cent, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. But a vision redirected his trajectory, and he subsequently lived his life in service to the poorest of the 99%, showing a special affinity for animals, whom he considered his brothers and sisters.

It’s also told that the good Saint intervened on behalf of townspeople who were terrorized by a ferocious wolf whose constant killing was motivated by hunger. Francis tracked him and, upon finding the wolf, made peace between him and the people, ultimately blessing the wolf. (How one wishes for a Second Coming of Francis here in Montana before the wolf hunting and trapping orgy begins!)

According to CBS News in New York, “(a) llama, a mini horse, falcons, dogs and even a camel were offered blessings at the Morningside Heights church to celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.” (See Ted the camel, a sanctuary resident, here.) Cats, turtles, goats, and no less than a kangaroo have been blessed.

But there’s a divide as stark as heaven and hell between the animals we know and love as individuals and the nameless billions–no less individuals than our beloved cats and dogs–who endure lives of abject suffering and face brutal deaths in our nation’s factory farms. What do we make of this but that our species has developed the ability to compartmentalize our regard for other animals: companions vs. farmed animals; furry kids vs. food; the animals we treat with kindness vs. the animals we eat in blindness. Matthew Scully, writing in Dominion: The power of man, the suffering of animals, and the call to mercy, puts it thus:

Pope John Paul II, during World Environment Day in 1982, said “It is my hope that the inspiration of Saint Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created.” A Methodist church in Georgia wrote that St. Francis “lived his life with a profound love and respect for all creatures, human and animal alike.”

Regardless of our individual religious beliefs–or lack of them–we can surely agree that, when we look beyond our own dear companions, our kinship with animals has suffered. As a species, our love and respect is granted selectively. We exploit them in the show ring, the circus, the rodeo arena, the zoo; we breed them irresponsibly then kill the excess; we lock them away in the research lab; we condemn them to hellish existences without a shred of kindness then eat their tortured bodies and wear the skins that never knew a gentle touch.

If ever a saint was needed to intervene on behalf of animals, it is now.

To comment on this post, please visit the Animal Blawg.

Killing the Holy Grail: Fisher, wolverine trapping continues

Pine marten – USFWS photo

Last autumn, on a remote forest road in Montana’s northern Bitterroot Mountains, I saw my first fisher. The luxuriously-coated, dark brown carnivore–a member of the weasel family–had just caught lunch. As he dragged his prey into the forest, I wished him safe passage through the coming trapping season. A few years earlier I came face-to-face with a pine marten on a high, wild trail in the Tetons. My first and only marten sighting was cause for amazement and gratitude—just the two of us in a deep forest, quietly considering each other. An exquisite least weasel in Yellowstone’s backcountry, a long-tailed weasel rippling through snow on my own property–no doubt about it, the mustelids had, well, weaseled their way into my heart. But for all my considerable time spent in wild, remote places, I’ve yet to encounter a wolverine. What an unforgettable event that will be!

But, just like excrement, trapping happens. Some Montana mustelids (otter, fisher, wolverine) are considered “furbearers” for whom quotas exist; others like the pine marten face unlimited trapping.While it might be true that “the trapping quota for all of western Montana is just seven fishers a year” (according to a recent article in the Missoulian, “Biologists Hunt for Fisher Hair”), we have no idea what percentage of their small population this constitutes. Furthermore, MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) reports that nine were actually trapped this season*—two over quota—and those are only the reported statistics. Trappers have, in the past, caused at least one wolverine study to be scrapped because they killed so many of the research animals; should we trust that each and every “harvest” of a sensitive species is reported?

By their own designation, FWP considers fishers and wolverines “species of concern.” The wolverine has been reviewed for Endangered Species Act listing by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—and while they were found to warrant listing, they didn’t make the priority cut (“warranted but precluded”). The fisher is currently under review for listing in the Northern Rockies. (Update: Found not warranted for listing. Read here. Update update: Feds to protect wolverine as threatened species) Why are these fragile populations subject to trapping in Montana at all? (Montana is the only state in the lower 48 to allow wolverine trapping.) What science stands behind the decision to trap any of an unknown, dwindling number?

Biologists are attempting to get a handle on just how many fishers inhabit our neck of the woods by snagging their fur. DNA evidence via hair sampling might be changing wildlife biology, as one biologist noted in the Missoulian, but until commercial and recreational trophy trapping is entirely closed for these species, we have no idea what we’re losing in the meantime. Not only is trapping intentionally cruel, but where some species are concerned, it could be robbing us of our wildlife heritage. Again.

At a state commission meeting for Montana FWP a few years ago, fisher and wolverine trapping quotas were on the agenda. Individual activists, grassroots groups, and representatives of the large, national organizations attended; we asked the commission to close trapping entirely for these imperiled species. Trappers, of course, advocated for continued trapping; one of them called the wolverine “the Holy Grail of trapping.” Imagine finding the Holy Grail–and killing it!

Now that I’ve beheld both a pine marten and a fisher, the wolverine is my Holy Grail, too. Yessiree, I’m going for a mustelid grand slam! But when I find my wolverine, I won’t kill her. I won’t remove his genes from a pool whose shallow depth is unknown. I’ll remember that global warming is placing serious, increased pressures on Gulo gulo,who needs deep snow at high elevations well into the spring birthing season.

But back to the fisher. The cash payout for a dead fisher is $42.83 per skin. That’s according to FWP’s 2009 state furbearer program newsletter, the most recent they’ve made available. Fisher by rare fisher, that’s 42 bucks and change in trappers’ pockets. The rest of us—those who appreciate and respect wildlife, those who love ’em alive—are getting robbed, and it’s simply dead wrong.

*The quota status now shows 8 killed.

This post first appeared on the animal law blog, Animal Blawg.

Two animal rescues: 33 happy homecomings & one heartbreaker

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Anyone who works in the animal rights arena knows that a single day–nay, a single minute–can feature the most jubilant high and the utmost despairing low. One emotion follows on the heels of the other as news randomly enters your world: humans at their most compassionate and generous best–vigorously turning the wheels of justice for animals; humans at their most uncaring and depraved worst–deliberately evil monsters or indifferent agents of neglect, suffering, and death. How on earth to reconcile this?

This very scenario played out recently with good news about South American circus lions–33 of them (9 from Columbia; the rest from Peru)–who are being prepared to embark on the biggest airlift of its kind to The Wild Animal Sanctuary, a 720-acre refuge in Keenesburg, CO (video). Peru, as you might recall, banned wild animal circus acts in 2011, with the bill’s legislative champion inviting “parliamentarians from all countries to follow the example of Peru and ban wild animals in circuses, ending the suffering of animals.” Congressman Jose Urquizo went on to say, “That will make us a more modern and civilized society” (source). It’s taken a while to shutdown and confiscate every last wild animal, but it has come to pass.

And so, a happy dance was in order for 33 big cats who’ve endured cramped cages, whips, and other brutalities:

But rescues don’t always have happy endings, and such is the tragic story of little Kwan, a young Malayan sun bear for whom rescue came too late–not that the good people at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) didn’t throw their hearts and souls into saving her. From their Facebook page:

The next day, Kwan succumbed (Facebook post) to malnourishment and neglect. She had been fed rice and bananas. Her claws had grown so long that they curled into her footpads. She was partially hairless–the cruel irony of a sun bear deprived of the sun.

WFFT mentions “a temple” and diplomatically refers to the bear’s “owners,” but according to an article at Channel NewsAsia, the bear was a “heartwrenching find during a visit to Wat Ang Suwan, a Buddhist temple in Thailand’s western province of Prachuap Khiri Khan.” The bear’s “owners” are Buddhist monks who also keep captive Asiatic black bears–also in poor condition. According to the monks, “the wildlife had been rescued, and…they planned to open a small zoo within the temple’s compound.” (You might recall another Thai Buddhist temple that exploits tigers.)

According to PoD Volunteer, “It is very common in Thailand for people to donate wildlife to temples however the temples are far from ideal locations to keep wild animals and in many cases medical care and sufficient nutritional food is not available.”

Buddhism’s First Precept is to abstain from “killing or causing harm to other living beings. This is the fundamental ethical principle for Buddhism, and all the other precepts are elaborations of this” (source). According to Norm Phelps (“The Great Compassion: Buddhism & Animal Rights”), “Within the Buddhist community, this has never been a matter of dispute; all schools agree on it.”

Look at little Kwan’s pictures. I couldn’t bear to repost them here, but if you have a heart, be forewarned: it’ll break. And then consider the Buddha’s words: All beings…love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?

Just another reminder, I suppose, of the universality of speciesism–across cultures, across beliefs.
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Learn more:

  • Operation Spirit of Freedom: The historic ADI mission to save wild circus animals in Peru – 3-1/2 min. Vimeo and text
  • The Wild Animal Sanctuarywebsite; Facebook
  • “Wildlife officials: Famed Thai temple doesn’t abuse tigers,”here.
  • A happier sun bear rescue, here.

Comment on this post at Animal Blawg.

Hunter kills companion dog: “I thought it was a wolf”

LeeCreekDogIt wasn’t hard to see this tragedy coming. Really, it was just a matter of time–not if it would happen, but when.

A Missoula, Montana man went skiing on Sunday, Nov. 17th (2013) with his three canine companions– malamutes all–and returned home with only two living dogs. The third, a 2-year-old named Little Dave, was shot multiple times by a camo-clad hunter who thought he was killing a wolf.

The story–as reported by the media and expounded upon by county and state officials–can be read in

Little Dave’s guardian, a man named Layne, witnessed his companion’s death. Because it’s right that he tell the story in his own voice, and because animal advocates will recognize the depth of his anguish–and anger, I offer his personal account of the event, taken with his permission from his Facebook page.

What is on my mind is the tragedy that has taken place and the miss quotes from the media and the Sheriffs dept. So I am setting the record straight. This is what happened….

I went crosscountry skiing up at Lee Creek campground where I have gone in the past. Knowing it was hunting season I put the bright lights that are on all three of my dogs collars.

After skiing for about 200-300 yards I here “tat”, my dog in front of me, his rear leg is blown off. I scream “no,no,no,stop stop” and as I near my dog who was 15 yards in front of me I hear “tat,tat,tat,tat.”

Little Dave - courtesy photo from Facebook

Little Dave – courtesy photo from Facebook

I look up and there is the “hunter” and I screamed “what have you done?” Screaming hysterically, the man says ” I thought it was a wolf.”

I said “You just killed my dog, you killed one of my kids.”

I started screaming “noooooo.” He started to say something like “can I do something,” not I am sorry.

I said “Do you know what a wolf looks like? You killed my dog.”

The man took off, I just screamed “noooooooo” and tried to put him back together but his leg was torn off and yes 15 yards in front of me and yes he was shot with an ASSAULT rifle, I know I have seen them it was either an AR 15 or AR 14. It was all black had a sound suppressor and that was why no big BOOM BOOM semi automatic.

I know guns, I don’t have any but I have shot them before, and yes I have hunted both Bow and Rifle. It is the irresponsible hunters who think they can shoot any animal they see if they are in the woods.

The MT Fish and Wildlife said they couldn’t press any charges because it wasn’t a game animal on the road, it was a domestic animal. What???? Bullshit, So I left my skiis and poles there, put my Little Dave’s bloody and broken body on my shoulder and hiked out to also get my other dogs to safety.

So no charges, I call the police dept who gives me examples of people getting hurt because of the public outcry and are afraid of vigilante violence. But the truth is still one of our rights and so is freedom of speech. I don’t want this guy to get hurt , but something needs to be done…I am heart truly heart broken, everything I do is for my dogs, from where I live, to what I drive, and what I do is predicated on the lives of my dogs…Thank you to everyone who has wished myself and my other dogs Frank and Rex well…Layne

Where do we go with our anger–those of us who love dogs? Who love wild places? The last time I went to Lee Creek–years ago now–we met friends there to go snowshoeing with our combined three dogs. Shortly afterward, we learned that a skier’s dog was caught in a snare at Lee Creek, yet we’d never given the first thought to the possibility that traps might be lying in wait there. Even the U.S. Forest Service touts this area for its winter recreation opportunities–but the mountains feel less friendly. We haven’t been back to Lee Creek since.

Now, a six-month-long wolf hunting season–September 15 to March 15–stretches into the future, increasing the odds that more tragedies await. As of today, 85 Montana wolves have been killed, and the 2-1/2 month wolf trapping season hasn’t even started. The woods are not safe for anyone–wild, domestic, or human.

A culture of gun worship, a vendetta mentality against wolves and other predators, and the complete dominance of blood sports in both funding the state management agency and setting its management goals have left a great many of us out in the cold, without peace of mind in wild country–when we venture there at all.

Little Dave, on a romp in the snowy outdoors, paid the ultimate price when a man with a gun couldn’t distinguish between a malamute and a wolf and took the shot anyhow. And then fired several more. And while the dog’s guardian is not necessarily opposed to hunting, it can’t be of any consolation that the bullets that killed his beloved companion were meant for another canine who loves her pups and her family equally as much, in her own way. We animals are really quite similar in many meaningful ways.

Fearing and spearing animals in Montana

The Montana legislature meets every other year for 90 days. There’s always talk of how this isn’t long enough to get the people’s business done, but some years (like this one) would be better skipped altogether. The legislature–ever filled with pillars of anti-government, anti-regulation conservatism–is awash in a strong infusion of tea this year. To let you know how bad it is for animals, let me first tell you how bad it is in general.

Here are just two examples. One House representative pleaded for keeping the death penalty based on the “fact” that inmates now kill their guards with AIDS-infected paper airplanes. (OK, she called ’em blow darts.) Another sponsored a bill making it public policy to acknowledge that global warming is beneficial to Montana’s welfare and business climate. (Mercifully, this one was just tabled.)

In a whacked-out atmosphere like this, what chance do animals stand? To wit, a few items from the little shop of horrors Republicans are busy creating for native wildlife. Let’s start with nullification of the Endangered Species Act, which would solve the “wolf problem” once and for all. Proponents invoke Thomas Jefferson and claim that the ESA is an unconstitutional use of Federal power. This bill is still chugging along.

Legislators want to reclassify mountain lions as predators, essentially declaring open season on them. Read about Montana’s recreational predator killing here. They want to regulate wild bison (think Yellowstone’s iconic herd here–the last genetically-pure, migratory herd we’ll ever know) as livestock. They’ve proposed a slew of anti-wolf and grizzly bills–including one to declare the griz population recovered and allow preemptive killing.

One misguided senator wants to return Montana to the Stone Age, allowing atlatl and hand-thrown spear hunting during general rifle season. When is enough enough? We’ve got bullets, arrows, and traps; we’ve got year-round, unlicensed recreational killing of many predator and “nongame” species in addition to regulated hunting and trapping seasons. As if there weren’t already methods and opportunities enough to maim or kill animals in Montana! This bill has passed out of the Senate and awaits its House hearing.

(Why, you might ask, is a Montana legislator infatuated with Neanderthal bloodsport? This astute senator cited defensive end Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings. Allen’s showy exploits are available online, where he spears a domestic elk on an Illinois game farm.)

Let’s consider suffering, something a majority of our senators failed to do or simply dismissed. A poorly-placed bullet can quickly be followed by another, but what about spears…? I posed this question to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, pointing out that legislators are not wildlife experts, and should not be making such serious decisions without knowledge of the consequences. Is there research on injuries to animals from poorly-thrown spears? Is there data from other states? Shouldn’t this be part of the discussion?

This answer came back from the FWP Law Enforcement Bureau: “When this bill was introduced, we sent out an inquiry through National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs (NACLEC) regarding this issue. Of the 50 states, 35 responded, with all but one not allowing spears or atlatls for hunting big game. Many states did allow it for either small game or birds, however. The one state that did allow it for big game hunting (Alabama) had only one season behind them and had no information regarding wounding, etc. That is really the extent of the information available to us at this time.”

FWP is taking no position on the bill, maintaining that it’s a “social issue” with no biology involved.

Is spear hunting actually about hunting–or really just about ego and killing? Let Gene Morris of Alabama be your guide. Morris, the self-proclaimed “greatest living spear hunter in the world,” has killed 542 animals with spears, more than 80 of them two at a time (a spear in each hand), and is working on killing three at a time using his leg. He’s even built a museum to pay homage to his killing career. If you like what you see, you can order DVDs. ”All the kill scenes are very explicit,” he says.

This post first appeared at the animal law blog, Animal Blawg.