For dogs’ sake, leave innocent hounds out of wolf hunt

Last week, State Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) introduced a bill to ban the use of dogs in Wisconsin’s wolf hunt. I’d like to think this was a direct result of my wife’s impassioned letter to the senator, but I’ve no doubt there are plenty of people in our district who are nearly as smart as she is, so I’m guessing it was a critical mass of righteous anger that led the senator to act.

And – sheesh – it was about time someone did. If there were ever a common-sense measure that deserved to be acted upon posthaste, it’s this one. Unfortunately, early indications are that the bill has little chance of passing.

Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), the lead sponsor of the legislation that cleared the way for the wolf hunt, told the AP that the bill was likely to die on the vine. “To totally eliminate an entire privilege that is out there for sportsmen, it goes too far,” said Suder.

Well, hey, I call B.S. on that, assemblyman. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, or even one that pits hunting rights supporters against anti-hunting activists. On the contrary, it’s a question of simple human decency.

First and foremost, there’s the danger posed to dogs.

Last year, plaintiffs including the Dane County Humane Society, the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies, and the Wisconsin Humane Society filed suit against the DNR over rules allowing the use of dogs in the state’s wolf hunt.

One of the affidavits submitted as part of the lawsuit was from Richard Thiel, a retired DNR wolf manager who spent 33 years with the Bureaus of Endangered Resources and Wildlife Management.

Here was Thiel’s take on the hunt: “Dog packs that will be used to chase a wolf or a pack of wolves will be regarded by the wolves as a threat. Attacks will be swift and furious. Dogs will be seriously injured and die, and wolves will be injured and die as they both fight by slashing out with their canines and carnassial teeth.”

Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a nationally respected authority on dog training and behavior, also submitted an affidavit. (You may remember her from Wisconsin Public Radio’s Calling All Pets.) McConnell stated that on-leash requirements, certified training, and breed restrictions were necessary to prevent dogs and wolves from getting into confrontations that could result in severe injuries and deaths. “Wisconsin’s wolf hunt will be little more than state-sponsored dog fighting,” she said.

So if you care about the welfare of dogs in Wisconsin, at the very least you should endorse sensible restrictions on the use of dogs in wolf hunts, and ideally you should support Risser’s ban.

Of course a cynic might say, “So what? By allowing wolf hunting in the state, we’re endorsing the killing of wolves. Why should we be so concerned about dogs?”

Good question. And the answer is that dogs are, well, a different animal. Genetically, they’re similar to wolves, but when it comes to demeanor, ability and willingness to show affection, and their suitability as human companions, they couldn’t be much different from their canine cousins.

The reason for that is simple: We created them. They evolved alongside humans for thousands of years – most likely from gray wolves starting around 130,000 years ago. That’s an evolutionary eye blink in the scheme of things, but it was enough time to turn a wild, unpredictable predator into a gentle, loyal, and valuable companion.

Indeed, the evolution of the dog is a fascinating, even touching story. Recent research suggests that some canines’ ability to digest starchy grains and vegetables grown by early agrarian societies was the key to their evolution. Most likely, wolves that were naturally tamer, gentler, and less fearful of humans also tended to stick around human settlements. Eventually, the wolves with the greatest affinity for humans evolved into dogs. We provided food and, in return, they provided protection and companionship. From the beginning, it was a symbiotic relationship, and it ultimately progressed, for most people, into a love affair.

The human-dog relationship is also a longstanding one. Archaeological evidence suggests that humans and dogs shared the same graves as far back as 11,000 years ago. That’s a long time to hold the title “man’s best friend.” In fact, given the devotion we show to our dogs, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that sense of loyalty were to some degree encoded in our own DNA.

So because we created dogs to be gentle, trusting, loyal companions, we owe them a measure of respect. At the very least, we should respect them enough not to put them in harm’s way. Indeed, the same sense of outrage that people felt toward Michael Vick during his high-profile animal cruelty trial six years ago should be summoned here. If dog-fighting is cruel – and it’s almost universally regarded as such – what do you call subjecting dogs to confrontations with wolves?

Sure, nature itself is cruel, and thousands of animals suffer and die every day. But to much the same extent that humans exist outside of nature, red in tooth and claw, dogs occupy a special place in the animal kingdom. By their very nature, they’re ideally suited to living with us in our homes. You can’t say the same of wolves, which are wild in every sense of the word.


I understand that hunting is considered by many to be a vital contributor to Wisconsin’s tourism industry, but putting reasonable restrictions on hunters would hardly endanger our economy. In fact, we should be doing whatever we can to protect our state’s brand, and throwing our dogs to the wolves can only undermine our government’s tireless attempts to establish Wisconsin as a great place to do business.

Let’s support Sen. Risser in his common-sense effort to make our state just a bit more humane. Banning the use of dogs in wolf hunts is the least we can do for our best friends.

Only you can help. To email Rep. Suder, click here. To thank Sen. Risser for introducing this long-overdue legislation, click here. And, of course, don’t forget to contact your own legislators to voice your support for Sen. Risser’s bill. It also couldn’t hurt to spread the word about this important issue. Share or forward this blog post, show your support for the bill on Facebook or Twitter, or simply tell a friend.

Your dog thanks you.

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