An Evansville man who shot and killed two dogs while hunting coyotes did not act with criminal negligence, his attorney told Dane County jurors Tuesday.
“The basic facts wouldn’t be in dispute. … Those were not coyotes,” said Michele Tjader, attorney for Kurt K. Rausch.
Rausch is charged with misdemeanors mistreating animals and endangering safety by negligent use of a firearm. His jury trial started Tuesday.
Rausch, 35, had hunted coyotes at night before at the Badfish Creek State Wildlife Area located between Evansville and Stoughton. He was using a coyote call and expected to lure them to where he waited near the edge of a clearing, Tjader said.
Diana Clark was running her dogs Frannie and Gary at the wildlife area at about 6 p.m. Jan. 22, 2016. Clark was training her dogs for skijoring, a sport that involves dogs pulling a cross-country skier.
Clark testified Tuesday she trains her dogs year-round and had been at Badfish Creek State Wildlife Area about 100 times, often at night. She had seen hunters a few times during daylight hours, she said.
“After that, I brought (the dogs) mostly at night,” she said while being questioned by Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey.
One at a time, Clark’s dogs emerged from the underbrush. Frannie was about 15 yards from Rausch when he turned on his headlamp, saw the light reflect in a pair of eyes and saw a set of pointy ears, consistent with a coyote’s. Rausch fired one shot, hitting and dropping the dog. Seconds later, Rausch heard another noise, saw an animal emerge from the underbrush and fired one shot that hit Gary in his rear end, Humphrey said.
Clark was a few hundred yards away when she heard the shots and ran until she found her dogs on the ground. Rausch was nearby. Frannie was bleeding from a gunshot wound and died in Clark’s arms. Gary’s hind legs were paralyzed, and the dog later died at a veterinary hospital, Humphrey said.
Both dogs were wearing reflective vests, Clark said.
Rausch said in a statement to deputies and a conservation warden he had made “a horrible mistake,” Humphrey said.
Rausch is guilty because he failed the “second rule of hunting,” Humphrey said. “He didn’t identify his target.”
That error needlessly put the dogs and Clark at risk of great bodily harm or death, which constitutes criminal negligence, Humphrey told jurors.
In her opening remarks, Tjader said Rausch did what countless other hunters have done, shooting at “what he thought he saw.”
Rausch believed he was in the woods alone because there were no other vehicles in the parking lot when he arrived. A retired warden will testify dogs can easily be mistaken for coyotes, Tjader said.
The reflective vests the dogs wore did not cover them in front, which was the view Rausch had of them, she said.
The dogs also were off leash, and at Badfish, state code prohibits dogs to run loose unless they are hunting or being trained for hunting, Tjader said.
Not expecting dogs to be running loose at night, when coyote hunting is permitted, Rausch did not think the animals he encountered at Badfish would be dogs, she said.
If convicted, Rausch faces maximum penalties of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.