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Patricia McConnell, an expert on animal behavior, is not against hunting and even raises lamb for food. But the University of Wisconsin-Madison zoologist and author is appalled by what she regards as blatant cruelty to animals sanctioned and abetted by the state.

“I’m sure most people don’t know this goes on in Wisconsin,” McConnell says. “I think most people would be horrified.”

McConnell is referring to the use of dogs to hunt other animals, like bear, with often deadly consequences. Joe Bodewes, a Minocqua-based veterinarian, described the damage to dogs by bear in a recent letter to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“Broken and crushed legs, sliced-open abdomens and punctured lungs,” he wrote. “Dogs lying mangled and dying on the surgery table — all in the pursuit of sport.”

Bodewes, in an interview, says his small clinic treats about a dozen dogs a year mauled by bears while hunting. Usually two to four die. Recent cases include a dog whose jaw “was snapped off below the eyes” and one whose back muscles were “ripped loose from its spine.” Both survived.

Now Wisconsin is about to become the only state to let dogs be used in wolf hunts. A judge’s injunction blocking the use of dogs in last year’s inaugural hunt has been lifted; the case is now before a state appeals court. This year’s hunt, with a kill goal of 275 wolves, begins Tuesday. Dogs can be used beginning Dec. 2.

McConnell and others warn of inevitable violent clashes. And with good reason.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, wolves have killed 23 hounds so far this year, tying a 2006 record. All were being used to hunt or pursue bear, says DNR wildlife damage specialist Brad Koele.

Their owners can receive up to $2,500 per animal from the state. Many have already applied.

“People who choose to put their dogs at extreme risk of horrific injury are compensated,” McConnell says. “Some of these dogs die painful deaths, in a blood sport that it some cases is no better than organized dog fights.”

A recent study found that Wisconsin has a higher dog casualty rate than Michigan, which also allows their use in bear hunts. The lead author, a Michigan Tech wildlife ecologist, speculated that Wisconsin’s compensation program creates “an incentive for abuse” — that is, hunters who deliberately put their dogs at great risk.

Since 1985, a DNR tally shows, the state has spent $441,651 to reimburse hunters for hounds killed by wolves, usually while hunting or pursuing bear. Until last year these payments, and more than $1 million paid for wolf depredations of other animals, came in part from the state’s Endangered Resources Fund.

Now these payments come from application and license fees paid by prospective wolf hunters. Last year, Koele confirms, none of these fees went for wolf population monitoring or hunt management costs.

McConnell and Bodewes trace the state’s policies back to small but politically powerful advocacy groups. These prominently include the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the state chapter of Safari Club International, and United Sportsmen of Wisconsin.

These three groups collectively spent nearly $400,000 since 2004 lobbying state officials, including their support for the wolf hunt law. Group officials did not respond to interview requests.

Former Republican state Rep. Scott Suder, the wolf hunt bill’s lead Assembly sponsor, helped United Sportsmen snare a $500,000 state grant, which Gov. Scott Walker yanked after concerns were raised about the group’s fitness and honesty. Suder ending up leaving a lucrative state appointment to become a lobbyist.

The owners of dogs killed by wolves while hunting wolves are not eligible for compensation. While McConnell is glad state funds won’t go to this purpose, she notes that hunters have “no motivation to report” dogs killed or injured.

A DNR official says the agency may try to gather information about dog casualties in its post-hunting-season questionnaire.

The Money and Politics Project, a partnership of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and MapLight, is supported by The Joyce Foundation. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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11 replies on “Is state too open to hunting with dogs?”

  1. Bill: Great! I’ve been wondering why nobody pointed out this outrage. Would be interesting to see how much of the payout for dead dogs went to out-of-state “hunters” who gang in here to “train” their dogs on our bear in the summer. This is just an incredible thing. The great Wis. natural world is now under the control of the barroom idiots. If we let this go on we have no sense of decency. Keep up the good work.

  2. I agree with Ms. McConnell and Dr. Bodewes. If one thinks objectively about the activity of bear hunting with dogs it seems to exist as a means of entertainment for us humans, a source of income for guides and breeders, and as an expression of bygone days when Americans were “on the frontier” gathering fish and game for food.

    Are these reasons a sound basis in 2013 for continuing to expose dogs and bear to harm so we humans can enjoy “the thrill of the chase”? Running for their lives, sometimes with yearlings struggling to keep up with them, the bear often runs miles until exhaustion forces them up a tree or against a brushy barrier to take a stand against the team of dogs. I’ll let the reader decide if this has a health (physical or mental)impact on the bears.

    I’ve been treating hounds for over 40 years and 99% of them make excellent, gentle, clean, family pets. I’ve never seen a single one suffer physically or mentally because it wasn’t able to “do what it was bred to do”. I’ve seen many, though, that suffered and died from being set up by us humans for the chase of their lives.

    I’m not against hunting. I dislike the activity of turning dogs loose to chase bears. Maybe a more “frontiersman-like” hunt for bears would be to scout, track, put a sneak on the quarry all by yourself, and take the shot. At least you have a choice; the dog and the bear do not.

    T J Dunn, DVM

    1. Mr.Dunn,
      I was a customer of yours back when you first started your business. I do have hounds. I use them for hunting of several species of game. Much like you no doubt have used your bird dogs to hunt grouse,, woodcock, ducks geese or pheasants. A dog that is bred for hunting, whether it be birds or other game, loves to hunt and lives for it. If you would take the time to venture into the woods with a true houndman, then you might think differently of their sport. A bird hunter doesn’t “make” his retreiver swim after a duck or spaniel search for a grouse. Neither do houndsmen force their dog to hunt. It’s a natural response. You state that 99% of our hounds would make excellent family pets. I disagree. When my dogs reach an old age and are unable to hunt, I try to let them in the house and live out their elder years in warmth and comfort. They do not like it. They are far too warm indoors. They shed constantly and at an early age are way too energetic to live indoors. I’m sure you have pills to cure that. I find it amazing how you had no problem accepting the money for 40 years from hunters and now at your age/retirement you choose to turn your back on some of those that afforded you the living you have become accustomed to.
      You were a very good vet years ago. I came to you because I believed you were truly concerned and understood hounds. I had no idea you thought this way about your loyal customers. After you sold your business, I had a hard time finding another vet I trusted. I was so fooled by you. I do not and will not participate in the wolf hunt with hounds. I simply don’t want to have my hounds chase wolves. However I will continue to persue other game until I too am unable to participate in the hunt. Hunting is in my blood, just as it is in my hounds and in your bird dogs. I have never in my life lost one single dog to a bear. I have been hunting them for over 30 years. Maybe you should consider the overall population of hound hunters before you point fingers. I realize that in your line of business you see the worst case scenarios. That is not the norm. Literally thousands of bear hunts take place without incident. Thousands of dogs have been killed in vehicle collisions, yet not one word is said about changing traffic patterns, fining the pet owner for negligence or better yet fining the driver of the car. Accidents do happen daily. I firmly beleive there are far more pets killed on wisconsin roads than in the woods in persiut of game. Accidents happen in all areas of life. Hound hunting is far from the blood bath you portray it to be. The dogs you treat at work and lick your face, are the same dogs that hunt out of their passion for life.
      former customer

      1. You aren’t fooling anybody with your over-wordy and completely indefensible response. You just like dogfighting.

        1. You are a one trick pony. If you don’t want to hunt, don’t. If you don’t want to eat meat, don’t. Telling others that they must live according to your morality is misplaced arrogance.

  3. I am not in Wisconsin. I will NEVER visit or buy any products I know come from Wisconsin. Wolves have NOT recovered in the U.S., but killers are determined to make them extinct. No wolf researcher or expert scientific data or facts are being used for “politicians” to be saying it is okay to murder wildlife. Wolves are essential to healthy prey animals and all wildlife. Turning dogs loose on wolves, or any wildlife, is the exact SAME THING as felony dog fighting that is rampant in the U.S.; no different. It is not different than “penning” which is turning dogs loose to rip apart wildlife that is hog tied, chained or caged with its mouth duct taped shut. All of these activities (NOT SPORT..ANIMAL CRUELTY/ABUSE/TORTURE) are gambled on/bet on/spectator events. Pathetic. Obscene. NOT human beings, and they should not be considered as such. Politicians are only ‘catering to killers’, and no one else. What/who will Wisconsin morons kill when all the wolves are extinct/dead/gone? Each other?

  4. I’m staggered at the lack of compassion for another living being from these people. Future generations must be brought up to respect feelings of humans and animals then maybe we can inch towards a more respectful society

  5. I’m staggered at the lack of compassion for another living being from these people. Future generations must be brought up to respect feelings of humans and animals then maybe we can inch towards a more respectful society. it seems to me that to have their ‘fun’ they enjoy seeing a defenseless animal suffer with immense pain.

  6. Excellent article – horrible topic. As a life-long dog lover, it’s sickening to think about such awful and UNNECESSARY injuries.

    How can we consider Wisconsin “civilized” while such brutality is actively ENCOURAGED by the majority of our elected representatives?

    Killing or torturing wildlife for sport is sick and immoral.

    It’s appalling that “man’s best friend” is being forced to assist in such a “sport,” at the risk of heartbreaking injuries.

    If organized dog+dog fights are illegal, how can dog+bear fights be OK? The same disgusting human voyeurism is involved in both.

    Our society needs to work constantly to teach every new generation of children to SUPPRESS all the old, primitive human tendencies for brutality and cruelty, but in recent years our society seems to GLORIFY violence instead. Military killing techniques are discussed endlessly, and graphic violence is promoted as “fun” in TV shows, video games, movies, “professional” wrestling, extreme fighting, etc.

    We’re actively promoting ugliness and evil. Our core society values are degenerating.

  7. This is just dog fighting masquerading as hunting. For Wisconsin to even allow this to be defined as hunting fools NOBODY.

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