State Sanctioned Disposable Dogs
The Northern Highlands/American Legion State Forest (NHAL) is truly a remarkable place for recreation. The 232,000-acre NHAL has the highest concentration of lakes in Wisconsin, with hundreds of miles of trails for biking, paddling, skiing, and camping. My wife, Karen, and I were enjoying many of these recreational features during a recent trip to the Wisconsin Northwoods. Following each ride and hike that steamy weekend, we rewarded ourselves with a dive into the warm waters of Muskie Lake.
Early one morning we were awakened by dogs which bellowed for over an hour. Although we thought it odd, eventually it stopped and we didn’t think much about it. Shortly afterward, I did a solo MTB ride on a nearby two-track while Karen went on a successful blackberry picking foray. Not far from our campsite, I came across three people who had a pickup truck modified with kennels aboard. The people were friendly enough and a woman told me they had lost a dog, which her husband was searching for. By the looks of things, and what she said, I realized the group was bear hunt training.
Hunting Bear and Wolf
Using dogs for bear and wolf hunting is a fringe sport not only extremely unpopular among the general public, but also something many sportsmen abhor. This type of hunt usually involves setting up bait piles that attract bears and wolves. Baiting starts weeks or months before the official hunting season. An estimated 12,000 to 14,000 dogs are let loose every day in Wisconsin to “train” starting July 1st, with the bear hunt season held September 8th through October 12th. According to the 2014 Bear Hunter Survey, approximately 50 percent of license holders train their dogs on bear moms and cubs 3 to 4 times during the training season. Also, approximately 6 to 8 million gallons of bait are dumped on the Wisconsin hunting landscape at several thousand bait sites, which include state lands. It might be hard to believe, but Wisconsin has 37 captive dog training facilities where dogs are trained on coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and other animals. These sessions have resulted in injured animals, according to Melissa Smith of Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance (GLWA).
Once the season opens, hunters release their GPS-collared dogs near the bait piles hoping to kill treed bears or cornered wolves. It is a particularly cruel and dangerous practice to dogs and many forest animals. Imagine several dogs running wild, chasing bears and disrupting other wildlife. Every year, dogs, bears and wolves are killed during this so-called sport. Wolves will defend baiting areas, which in turn leads to deadly confrontations. Dog depredations by wolves occur regularly as GPS-collared dogs run miles from their tracking owners, according to Smith. In 2021, 86 percent of harvested wolves were taken by such dog hunters, who also run their dogs on wolves and coyotes.
Well-known author and animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell knows that hunting wolves, bear, and other large predators with free-running packs of hounds is dangerous. “Two veterinarians in northern Wisconsin have told me they see over 80 to 100 injured dogs a year” McConnell said. “Bear hunters insist that they be compensated if their dogs are injured, yet they also demand that they be allowed to use dogs. Training dogs to focus on the particular scent of one species involves practices that would turn people’s stomach if they knew about them. Just go to the DNR site and look at the regulations for training hounds. As a zoologist who has no problem with responsible hunting, having raised vulnerable lambs for years in areas with a high density of predatory animals, I am well aware of the dangers of predators on livestock. There are many carefully studied ways to hunt that don’t involve chasing animals into exhaustion with free-running packs of hounds who can be swapped out whenever they are tired.”
Wisconsin Hunters Compensation Program
In one of the arguably most bizarre DNR practices, hunters are compensated for their killed and injured dogs. A hunter can receive up to $2,500 per dog.
Is this not state-sanctioned cruelty, creating the disposable dog? In 2020 alone, 29 dogs were killed during these hunts. Over $80,000 dollars was paid to hunters for dogs killed or maimed by wolves, according to Wildlife Damage Specialist Brad Koele. “Over one million dollars has been paid out for dog predation through the life of the program, which started in 1985,” Koele said. “Each episode has to be verified by federal authorities within USDA. This information is available via the DNR website, including an interactive map showing where depredations occur.” According to Koele, no other Midwest state has a similar compensation program.
Repeat Customers Getting Your Dollars
This DNR program has approved more than $80,000 in payments to repeat claimants, those who put dogs in successive situations where they were killed by wolves, according to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. This source also says the following: that several individuals have claimed this bounty two or more times; many of the payouts go to people from other states; the leading recipient is an out-of-state resident, Marne Gall of St. Pierz, Minnesota, who received a total of $10,586 for three claims involving four dogs.
For many years, money for these payments came from the state’s Endangered Resources Fund. Many people supported the program by buying endangered species license plates, having no idea their contributions were funding this bizarre hunting scheme. Since 2012, these payments have come from the state’s wolf hunt application and license fees.
The Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association has been able to maintain these hunts through campaign contributions and lobbying. They donated over $370,000 in recent years, receiving their lobbying advice from former Republican senator Bob Welch, who famously termed the “Connecticut effect” in regards to the gun rights backlash following the massacre of 26 children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.
A Witnessed Example
Knowing there was a lost dog in this huge expanse of land, I continued my ride deep into the forest. Eventually I met up with the husband of the woman I had talked with. He was using other dogs, all GPS-collared, to lure the missing dog. I startled him as I rode up from behind, asking if he found the lost dog. He said, pointing the dog out, “Yes. Got him right here.”
In the dog’s left leg, a deep and bloody gash.
I asked if the dog was going to be okay. “He’ll be fine,” the man said. “I’ll just patch it up. He probably caught it on some brush. The stupid bear wouldn’t go up the tree so my dog just kept on following him.”
The bear was stupid for refusing to get itself treed?
By the looks of things, with my medical work and experiences, I suspected a cornered bear caused the laceration. The flesh was torn completely through with muscle showing. Steamed, trying to keep composed, I could only utter, “I’m not a fan of hunting bears with dogs and we don’t like it around here.”
The hunter replied, “Yeah, I know it’s controversial.”
More Bad Damage
Several years ago, while hiking in Michigan’s UP, I saw a pack of dogs coming near me during bear season. A nearby pickup truck modified with kennels aboard had Ohio plates. At the trailhead, a local woman complained that hunters get dogs from humane societies and let them loose to run bears. During the training and hunting seasons, dogs chase bears off public lands onto private lands, irking property owners. According to Smith, there have been over 700 complaints registered about this practice.
Wisconsin is the only state in the country, and one of the few places in the world, where hunting wolves with dogs is allowed. Canine-against-canine fighting is particularly heinous and often results in injuries to both animals. “Borat and wolf hunting is something Wisconsin has in common with Kazakhstan,” Smith said with disgust. “Dogfighting is supposed to be illegal, but during these hunts, canine-to-canine fighting occurs.”
Since this original interview, Smith reported to Silent Sports that legislation passed exempting domesticated hounds and all wildlife from animal anti-cruelty laws. (Substitute amendment SSA1 brought forth by Senator Wanggaard just one day before a vote on SB 366, a bill originally written to protect companion animals.) Smith questioned, “Why do you need a bill exempting these animals from cruelty if you’re not being cruel to them?”
There are several organizations that support ethical hunting. Check out Melissa Smith’s GLWA website, where hunters, silent sport types, farmers, animal welfare advocates, business owners, and diverse citizens are moving wildlife management towards an ethical, science-based vision that values all life. GLWA and other organizations recently filed suit to stop the Wisconsin wolf hunting and trapping season slated to begin November 6th. For more information, Go to Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife.
The Front Page
A Dog’s Life?
In the recently released biographical movie “Worth,” Michael Keaton portrays lawyer Kenneth Feinberg. His task is to gain at least 80 percent approval from relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks on a compensation payment plan. The question — What is a person’s life worth? — is a theme, debate, and measure of our humanity throughout the film. Right or wrong, I could not help but think about “Worth” when reading this month’s Silent Alarm by Michael McFadzen, and wonder, What is the worth of an animal our society has long deemed Man’s Best Friend?
During my childhood, a whippet and sheep dog were worth nothing to breeders ready to euthanize them because they showed an inappropriate appearance in the breed line. For a cat-sized dog cowering on a shoulder of the Dan Ryan Expressway, his life’s value seemed a certain and short lost cause. To my mother, however, the whippet especially and the sheep dog became rescues and of immeasurable value to her children. My father stopped his full-sized semi on the Dan Ryan to rescue Rubble, as we kids named him, who was eventually given to another family that found him irresistible and priceless.
In my years as a litigator, animal cruelty prosecutions were charged that, once the facts were accurately determined and revealed, made people question humanity and turn to their own pets to hold more dear. For Silent Sports Magazine, dogs have graced covers and interior pages, experiencing joy and bringing joy to the humans they own. Dogs go camping, running, canoeing, skijoring in all its forms, hiking, and simply enjoying the company of Silent Sporters.
Yet the photos I had to choose from for the Silent Alarm story were unnerving, the two finally selected appearing the least disturbing and graphic. I immediately challenged the photo-takers on why they took the photos as opposed to trying to stop what was happening. The answer given is found in one of the story’s captions that adds to the misery.
Dogs are brought together by humans to breed, sell, and create show dogs for competition and more breeding and such, often with human pride and substantial sums of money at stake. What about the other pups in all those many litters that have no chance to make best in breed? And what about those already existing dogs in shelters waiting for and wanting a forever home; dogs who, if given a chance, would be best in breed when it comes to companionship.
I’ve seen neighbors care for their senior dogs with such tender affection, their hearts broken when the difficult choice had to be made. But then we read what appears in this month’s Silent Alarm and the sources cited and elsewhere. Sarah Berstrom, of the Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance, wrote to me: “As wildlife and animal advocates, we do our best to try to educate as many people as we can. But the realities of hounding culture and the laws that protect it are so disturbing and outrageous that reasonable people assume we must be exaggerating or making it up.”
No, this is absolutely not about being anti-hunting; many hunters oppose the conduct revealed in this month’s Silent Alarm. It is also not about the use of dogs to point or retrieve already hunted game. And hunters ordinarily give their all for their dogs, training them, loving them, and doing plenty good for conservation. What this comes down to is what it means when we say, “A dog’s life.” Or ask, “What is ‘Man’s Best Friend’ worth?” The answer seems to range from priceless family member and loving companionship, to convenient and cruel disposability.
Too much like a coin flip, it all depends on the human.