Dane County jurors Wednesday found an Evansville man guilty of mistreating an animal for fatally shooting a dog he mistook for a coyote while hunting in a state wildlife area in 2016.
Kurt K. Rausch, 35, also was acquitted on two charges: a second count of mistreating an animal involving a second dog he fatally shot and endangering the dog owner’s safety by use of a firearm.
After a 1½-day trial, jurors deliberated for less than four hours before finding Rausch guilty of a misdemeanor.
He faces a maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine at a Feb. 6 sentencing before Judge Josann Reynolds.
Asked why she thought jurors did not acquit Rausch on all charges, defense attorney Michele Tjader said it might have been because of the dogs’ varied appearances.
“(One) dog didn’t fit the profile of a coyote. It was larger than the average coyote, and its head was shaped different than a coyote’s,” Tjader said in a phone interview.
Diana Clark, a veterinarian, owned both dogs and frequently trained them at the Badfish Creek State Wildlife Area after dark.
Gary was a mastiff mix and was running loose in a woody area on the evening of Jan. 22, 2016. Gary had the floppy ears characteristic of his breed.
Frannie was an Alaskan Husky mix and apparently responded to Rausch’s coyote call, emerging from the underbrush 15 yards from where Rausch was waiting with his rifle.
Frannie had pointed ears similar to a coyote’s and wore a blaze orange reflective vest, but it didn’t cover her chest. Rausch told authorities that he did not see the vest and believed he was shooting at a coyote, Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey said.
Gary bounded from the underbrush within seconds of Frannie’s arrival. He also was wearing a reflective vest and was shot in the backside, Humphrey said.
Frannie died in Clark’s arms at the wildlife area, located between Evansville and Stoughton. Gary died later after surgery.
Dogs are prohibited from running loose at state wildlife areas that allow hunting unless the animals are hunting or training for hunting. A former supervising warden who testified for the defense called the signs at the wildlife area “confusing,” Tjader said.
Clark testified that she was exercising her dogs for skijoring, a sport in which dogs pull a cross-country skier.
Tjader said Rausch was “devastated” by the guilty verdict. He believed that he “made a horrible mistake” but had not committed a crime, she said.
Rausch’s hunting privileges are not affected by the conviction because he was not cited by the Department of Natural Resources for a hunting violation.
Rausch was not charged until after an online petition signed by numerous special interest and animal rights groups was presented to the Dane County district attorney, said Tjader, who called the charges a “politically motivated” decision.
He originally was charged with felony mistreatment of animals offenses, but the charges were amended to misdemeanors after prosecutors said they could not prove Rausch intended to harm protected animals.