The Pennsylvania Game Commission revealed that it did not take any disciplinary action against hunters who killed pet dogs and then claimed they mistook them for coyotes.
The Reading Eagle had filed a right-to-know request Jan. 20 seeking that information and more after a Richmond Township couple’s 9-year-old Alaskan malamute mix was shot and killed by a hunter on a Lake Ontelaunee trail in Maidencreek Township on Jan. 7.
The hunter said he mistook the 90-pound dog for a coyote, according to Chris Heller, who was there with his malamute and another dog on the trail, and according to a Northern Berks Regional Police incident report.
On Nov. 9, 2013, Lilly, a 10-month-old border collie/setter mix, died after she was struck by a crossbow arrow when she wandered from Kayla Quales’ parents’ home in Albany Township. That hunter also claimed he thought the brindle-and-white dog with floppy ears was a coyote.
A right-to-know request response sent by Zachary Fahnestock, the PGC’s agency open records officer, stated “that it does not have any records of fines, civil penalties, suspension, modification or revocation of licenses, permits, registration, certifications, or similar authorization issued by the game commission related to the Jan 7, 2023, and Nov 9, 2013, incidents.”
The game commission also invoked its right to not share its investigative notes of the two incidents because they were deemed non-criminal. The response noted “that records relating to or resulting in a criminal investigation are exempt from disclosure, including complaints of potential criminal conduct.”
“Obviously I feel that they (the hunters) are negligent in their actions,” Quales said. “They didn’t identify their target. That should be able to be argued and prosecuted.”
When asked what policy governs the process of referring cases of hunters shooting something they should not have to police or a district attorney, Travis Lau, PGC communications director, provided the following statement.
“The game commission is a law-enforcement agency authorized to enforce the state’s game and wildlife code, as well as the crimes code,” Lau wrote Wednesday. “The agency often works in concert with other law-enforcement agencies. But when the incident being investigated is a hunting incident, the game commission typically is the investigating agency. Generally, the county district attorney is consulted if charges to be filed are graded a misdemeanor or higher.”
The two parties whose animals were killed by hunters say they think more action is needed to make sure it does not happen again.
“Because this now has happened a couple of times, it should be a warning sign that some kind of action should be able to be taken against the hunter, if found guilty,” Quales said.
“I also feel that the hunting laws need to be updated to protect family dogs,” said Jennifer Heller, Chris Heller’s wife. “A deer has more regulations protecting it than a family dog that is ‘accidentally’ shot.”
Title 34 Section 2306 of the Pennsylvania Code requires anyone “who, while hunting or trapping for game or wildlife which may be lawfully taken, by accident or mistake kills or attempts to kill any game or wildlife other than threatened or endangered species” to pay restitution to the game commission. The amount ranges from $15 for a bird, other than a turkey (which is $20), to $25 for a deer and $100 for an elk or bear.
Back in January, Lau had explained that Section 2509 of the game and wildlife code makes it a summary offense if a hunter were to injure or kill a property owner’s livestock. It would be punishable by a $100 to $200 fine plus damages.
For injured or killed pets, there are no game commission guidelines.
“The education is there — through the hunter safety course, but maybe the accountability isn’t quite there because there are no repercussions,” Quales said. “Really, it’s a huge safety concern, and that’s why we have them as an organization, because we’re trying to protect the wildlife, which is important, and obviously people.”
When humans are mistakenly injured or killed by hunters, those cases often get turned over to the county for prosecution.
Jason Kutt was shot Oct. 24, 2020 near the shoreline of Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County and the hunter said he thought he was firing at a groundhog. Kutt died several days later and the hunter ended up with a sentence of 7 to 20 years in prison.
The Hellers have hired a law firm, Jennifer said, and are pursuing a civil case against the hunter who killed their malamute mix, who happened to be name Hunter.
In addition to the state not having strong penalties for hunters who don’t properly identify their targets, Jennifer Heller said the game commission can do more.
“I feel the game commission doesn’t do a good enough job communicating with the non-hunting public about what hunting seasons are open,” she said, noting that if the trail had been marked with extended deer hunting season dates her husband would have put their dogs’ orange vests on before heading out on the trail.
Source: Berkshire mont
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