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Wednesday, 28 January 2015 15:32

Hunters and their dogs don’t deserve special protections

Written by 

op dogsBy Bill Lea • Guest Columnist

In the article about the bear dogs attacking a camper’s dogs (www.smokymountainnews.com/outdoors/item/14952), Wallace Messer (a bear hunter whose dogs were not involved in the attack) begins by suggesting the blame for the attack should perhaps be placed on the victims — a strategy used time after time by defense attorneys and their defendants pleading innocence. Even if Kadie Anderson’s dogs had growled as a natural reaction to protect their owner — which Kadie vehemently denies happened — that does not justify being attacked by a pack of a dozen dogs. A forest user and her pets’ well-being were still jeopardized. The bear hunting dog owners should be held accountable just like any other dog owner would be in the exact same situation. Why should any small group of dog owners be given special status with a law that protects only them when every other dog owner in the state would be held liable?

I find it most interesting that Messer goes on to say, “Changing the law might not be the best thing to do.” Why not change the law?  If Mr. Messer believes his own words when he suggests how seldom an attack would happen, “… one out of 10,000,” then why would it matter if the law changed?  

Could it be that maybe it does happen and it would not be in his personal best interest or in the best interest of other bear hunters to change the law? And by the way, why is there a law currently in place to provide bear hunters and their dogs special protection from any liability coming forth from such attacks? 

“Changing the law might not be the best thing to do” for bear hunters, but it sure would be the best thing to do for the rest of the people residing in or visiting North Carolina. Think about something — what if Kadie had had a young child with her amidst the pack mentality of a dozen attacking dogs? Who protects the child’s rights? The law as it is currently written certainly does not!

The article says:

“Bear hunting is more than just turning your dogs loose in the woods and jumping on anything you come across,” said Messer. Hunters walk the woods and let the dogs loose when they come across a bear, then the dogs get to doing the thing that they love to do. When they’re done doing it, they’re ready to go home and take a nap.

If bear hunters just “walk the woods and let the dogs loose when they come across a bear” then why are there so many bear hunters observed driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and National Forest roads during bear hunting season with dogs standing on carpeted cages in the back of their trucks and then released when the dogs pick up the scent of a bear along the road? Mr. Messer’s description sounds pretty benign, but those who spend any time in the woods know how it really works. Maybe what the public should be thinking about is what these free running, napping dogs do when they corner and attack a cub separated from its mother. Ms. Anderson could probably describe pretty accurately what it is like to be on the receiving end.

 Mr. Messer says hunters “should also be allowed the freedom to practice their hobby during the scant days of the year when they’re allowed to do so.” That statement sounds like he feels the forests should belong to bear hunters for the “scant” seven weeks of the year they are open to hunting bears. What he fails to mention is that two to three of those weeks are during the prime fall color season when everyone else wants to be in the forests enjoying their natural beauty. It is also important to remember, bear hunting dogs have the run of the woods chasing bears for seven months of the year. Should the public refrain from using their forests during that time too? 

The bottom line is the public using national forests or enjoying the outdoors are susceptible to an attack by bear dogs for seven months of the year! 

Kadie Anderson’s experience on the Nantahala National Forest undeniably proves an attack by bear hunting dogs is more than possible. And the subsequent lack of anyone coming forward proves that bear hunters will not always be responsible as claimed. What about the known fact that these bear hunters failed to help a bleeding, injured Ms. Anderson with two critically injured dogs find medical assistance? She was obviously from out of town and unfamiliar with the area.Where is the moral obligation to help a suffering fellow human being?

The truth of the matter is that if anybody’s dog attacks, the dog owner should be liable, plain and simple. No special interest group should receive exemption and special treatment from the rest of the population. The law needs to be changed.  

 (Bill Lea is a wildlife photographer who lives in Franklin.)

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