Is state too open to hunting with dogs?
Patricia McConnell, an expert on animal behavior, is not against hunting and even raises lamb for food. But the University of Wisconsin-Madison zoologist and author is appalled by what she regards as blatant cruelty to animals sanctioned and abetted by the state.
“I'm sure most people don't know this goes on in Wisconsin,” McConnell says. “I think most people would be horrified.”
McConnell is referring to the use of dogs to hunt other animals, like bear, with often deadly consequences. Joe Bodewes, a Minocqua-based veterinarian, described the damage to dogs by bear in a recent letter to the Wisconsin State Journal.
“Broken and crushed legs, sliced-open abdomens and punctured lungs,” he wrote. “Dogs lying mangled and dying on the surgery table — all in the pursuit of sport.”
Bodewes, in an interview, says his small clinic treats about a dozen dogs a year mauled by bears while hunting. Usually two to four die. Recent cases include a dog whose jaw “was snapped off below the eyes” and one whose back muscles were “ripped loose from its spine.” Both survived.
Now Wisconsin is about to become the only state to let dogs be used in wolf hunts. A judge's injunction blocking the use of dogs in last year's inaugural hunt has been lifted; the case is now before a state appeals court. This year's hunt, with a kill goal of 275 wolves, begins Tuesday. Dogs can be used beginning Dec. 2.
McConnell and others warn of inevitable violent clashes. And with good reason.
According to the state Department of Natural Resources, wolves have killed 23 hounds so far this year, tying a 2006 record. All were being used to hunt or pursue bear, says DNR wildlife damage specialist Brad Koele.
Their owners can receive up to $2,500 per animal from the state. Many have already applied.
“People who choose to put their dogs at extreme risk of horrific injury are compensated,” McConnell says. “Some of these dogs die painful deaths, in a blood sport that it some cases is no better than organized dog fights.”
A recent study found that Wisconsin has a higher dog casualty rate than Michigan, which also allows their use in bear hunts. The lead author, a Michigan Tech wildlife ecologist, speculated that Wisconsin's compensation program creates “an incentive for abuse” — that is, hunters who deliberately put their dogs at great risk.
Since 1985, a DNR tally shows, the state has spent $441,651 to reimburse hunters for hounds killed by wolves, usually while hunting or pursuing bear. Until last year these payments, and more than $1 million paid for wolf depredations of other animals, came in part from the state's Endangered Resources Fund.
Now these payments come from application and license fees paid by prospective wolf hunters. Last year, Koele confirms, none of these fees went for wolf population monitoring or hunt management costs.
McConnell and Bodewes trace the state's policies back to small but politically powerful advocacy groups. These prominently include the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the state chapter of Safari Club International, and United Sportsmen of Wisconsin.
These three groups collectively spent nearly $400,000 since 2004 lobbying state officials, including their support for the wolf hunt law. Group officials did not respond to interview requests.
Former Republican state Rep. Scott Suder, the wolf hunt bill's lead Assembly sponsor, helped United Sportsmen snare a $500,000 state grant, which Gov. Scott Walker yanked after concerns were raised about the group's fitness and honesty. Suder ending up leaving a lucrative state appointment to become a lobbyist.
The owners of dogs killed by wolves while hunting wolves are not eligible for compensation. While McConnell is glad state funds won't go to this purpose, she notes that hunters have “no motivation to report” dogs killed or injured.
A DNR official says the agency may try to gather information about dog casualties in its post-hunting-season questionnaire.
Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by The Joyce Foundation.
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