Rob Mullen: State’s stance on hound hunting mixes dangerous brew

This comment is from Rob Mullen of West Bolton, president of the Vermont Wildlife Coalition. He grew up in West Bolton and Jericho, has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Vermont, and is a nationally recognized wildlife artist. After 20 years away, mostly in New York, he now lives with his wife and father in the remains of the family farm in West Bolton.

When I was a kid in the summer of 1968, while taking the brand new Vermont Hunter Safety Course at the brand new Buck Lake Conservation Camp (the first week it was open), I was told that hunting deer with dogs was prohibited because it was not “fair”. hunt” and stresses the animals.

Young and idealistic, I assumed this applied to all game species. Surprise! (Note: “hunting” is the use of free-ranging dogs to track and hunt game. None of the following applies to bird dogs, retrievers, etc., where the dogs work closely together with and under the close control of the hunter.)

Recently, Vermont Public Radio asked me to participate in a panel discussion on S.281, a bill from the Vermont legislature that originally sought to end the hunting of coyotes with hounds (coyotes can be killed 24/365 with no catch limit in Vermont).

VPR’s reasoning behind my invitation was that they saw the Vermont Wildlife Coalition, of which I am the president, as an interesting wildlife advocacy group in that we support most hunts. While it can be difficult to communicate a nuanced view in polarized debates, and the show’s format has left a few pieces on the table, I’m not writing to rehash the program, but to expand on a troubling element of this situation that occurred to me afterwards.

In response to a question from the host, I mentioned the recent incident near Middlebury of a mountain biker and her dog who were attacked and chased by a pack of hunting dogs. This most recent incident comes on top of the Craftsbury dogs that ripped through a family’s greenhouse and mauled a coyote in front of several children a few years ago, and the pair of hikers and their dog who were attacked by dogs of bears in Ripton, with both the couple’s dog and the woman in need of medical attention.

The fact was, with Vermont’s loose definition of control over such extensive and GPS-tracked dogs, such conflicts do occur, and given that tragedy was narrowly averted, how many such events will it take- before someone is seriously injured? And why?

Such hunting, on a good day, is a marginal activity that can only erode public support for the hunt as a valued tradition and an essential management tool, particularly for white-tailed deer, which no longer have efficient predators here, with the exception of humans.

Ironically, while I grew up hunting deer here and heard coon dogs barking at night when I was little, I have yet to encounter a pack in the woods. So until recently, like most people in Vermont, I hardly ever thought about the question.

Still, reading the incident reports above got me thinking. We have three dogs in our family, and I realized that in addition to the hunting dogs on the loose and the state ignoring the consequences, there was a third volatile ingredient in the bilious brew the state lets ferment.

A few years ago, our selection committee asked me to be the town’s animal control officer. I view the job as that of a dog advocate and owner educator rather than the stereotypical “dog catcher”. Nevertheless, I am unfortunately aware of VT Statutes Title 20, Chapter 193, Subchapter 3545: The Right to Kill Domestic Animals or Wolf Hybrids (“domestic animal”, as defined in the statute, includes all domesticated dogs ).

The subchapter provides for the right to kill a dog in self-defense or in defense of another and further states: “A domestic animal or wolf hybrid found injuring, killing or ‘worry another domestic animal or the animal or poultry may be killed when the circumstances are such that the killing is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the animal or poultry which is the object of the attack’.

Here, then, are the ingredients the state has fought to maintain (special interests and the Vermont Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife have, thus far, severely weakened S.281):

  1. Allowing virtually unregulated and virtually uncontrolled packs of dogs to roam land, posted or unposted, day or night 365 days a year, and occasionally creating threats and/or harm and injury to people, pets and to livestock without substantial purpose.
  1. Dismissing damage, injury and trauma as regrettable but rare (and blithely assuming it will never get worse).
  1. Allow 1 and 2 in a constitutionally permitted population to carry firearms and, under VT Title 20 §3545, to use immediate deadly force in self-defence, their pets, or their livestock.

As a dog lover, I’m not saying carrying a gun when you’re out with your dog is the answer. It would only victimize more innocent people in this sad situation because hunting dogs only do what they are trained to do in concert with their nature. Having to shoot a dog, even to urgently defend a beloved pet, would, after the fact, be a terrible trauma for most people.

Coyote hunting in Vermont is an unnecessary problem that puts many people at risk. There are relatively few dogs in Vermont, so so far we’ve been lucky. However, given the incidents that have already occurred, it is irresponsible to continue to rely on luck.

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Tags: coyotes, hunting, Rob Mullen, S.281, Vermont Fish & Wildlife commissioner, Vermont Wildlife Coalition


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