When we first moved to our cabin here in Greenwood Maine, our shelter rescue dog Millie, a docile, submissive, full-blood Redtick Coonhound from Alabama, ran free over the nearly 500 acres of mountains we had just acquired – and she was in her glory. This was just as she had done on our 10 acre farm – and in the surrounding rural neighborhood – an hour south in Auburn. On the farm, she protected our laying flock of 100 free-range hens, and we had seen her hound dog instincts send her after possums, foxes, raccoons, porcupines, skunks, and her favorite – groundhogs. Although long time dog owners, we were first time hound owners when we adopted Millie in 2013, and in fascination I had read up on her breed and was amused and pleased to watch her small game treeing instincts in action around the farm – scenting, baying, chasing, and treeing, but best of all keeping our chickens safe, which she took to very naturally and with gusto. Before Millie foxes were a regular menace to our flock, and after her adoption we had only the occasional raptor to worry about.
However, it didn’t take much of Millie’s baying up here in the mountains before we heard from our neighbor Steven, a Greenwood pillar who had been outspoken around the small town about his displeasure with our arrival and plans to close the three peaks to hunting. Steven wasn’t alone – although there had been plenty of local support for our project, we’d also heard from a number of others in Greenwood’s robust hunting community who weren’t particularly excited about our epicurean eco-glamping treehouse plans, not necessarily because they had a problem with the idea itself, but because it represented an end to the hunting they’d been enjoying there for generations prior to our purchase of the property. Now let’s be clear, we’re hunters ourselves, so we’re sympathetic – but firearms discharging is simply incongruent with the business model of a peaceful woodland sanctuary where people will presumably pay a lot of money to, well, not have to dodge bullets. Anyhow, Steven reached out to us directly, and his point was that Millie may be chasing deer or moose, and allowing a hound to chase deer or moose specifically, is illegal in Maine.
I was curious about the law and its intentions, as I felt indignant that after purchasing 500 acres, I was being told I had to leash walk my dog! Wasn’t that a benefit of living somewhere so far in the country – no leashes, dog runs, crates, cages, fences, or doggie bags to fuss with, like the urban folk do? Freedom, right? Even at our farm in more-populated southern Maine, we hadn’t run into this issue before, and Millie was accustomed to running loose. I didn’t believe Millie was chasing deer as I’d only ever seen her tree small game, but I had to admit it was a perspective I hadn’t thought of. But even if she was chasing deer, why was that so bad? Millie wouldn’t kill a deer – she’s bred to tree, not maim. Why would Maine have a law against it, and what exactly did that law say? Regardless, not wanting to earn the immediate hatred of our new neighbors, and lacking the time or enough drive to look into the matter more exhaustively, I reluctantly put up a run for Millie and began leash-walking her twice a day like some damn suburban soccer mom lost in the wilderness, albeit begrudgingly.
But then, July 1st came. And with July 1st comes bear training season for hunting dogs in Maine. And with bear training, came the Massachusetts boys. One morning I was out cutting trails and heard a distinct sound that caught my ear. I put down my loppers and listened again. There it was, sure as shit, a hound dog baying – but not my hound dog! It stopped after a bit and I went back to work, irritated that someone else’s dog may be loose on our property. Later that night, I asked John and Charles (our equipment operator) about it at dinner at the cabin. They casually said it was a couple of hounds running loose. Excuse me?! Seeing the look on my face, Charles said they had talked to the owners and that they were training the dogs on bear, so it was allowed. So other people’s dogs can run loose on my property, but not mine??! Now I was really ugly. Charles kept reiterating that they’re hunting dogs, so they’re really not doing anything wrong, but I was no longer accepting these answers. Hunting dogs indeed – who was training these dogs? And exactly what type of training was it? I didn’t believe anyone was doing any formal training. Those dogs were running wild. My indignance and sensibilities piqued, I set out on a quest for information.
Alas, in the vast expanses of the rural wooded areas of our state where hunting is a way of life, I discovered that for legal purposes, there are really only two categories that dogs fall into – hunting dogs, and nuisance dogs. Which type the dog is, dictates whether it is allowed to roam “at large”. According to 7 MRS §3911, “it is unlawful for any dog, licensed or unlicensed, to be at large, except when used for hunting.” Part 13, Subpart 4, Chapter 921 §12404 states of ‘Nuisance Dogs’: “A game warden may kill a dog outside the enclosure or immediate care of its owner or keeper when the game warden finds that dog…Chasing, killing, wounding or pursuing a moose or deer at any time.” Further, if any person at all has “evidence” of a nuisance dog in violation of this law and has presented that evidence to a game warden, and if the warden then notifies the dog owner in writing of the violation, it is now open season on that dog and “anyone may kill the dog when it is found committing any of those prohibited acts.” In terms of consequences for the nuisance dog owner, the violation is only civil if not repeated, and the fine only $100-$500, but I’m guessing the loss of the dog’s life is meant to act as the main deterrent to violations. Non-hunting dogs essentially have no rights in Maine, except to exist in their owners’ yards.
If, however, the hound is used for hunting, it has rights enumerated in Maine Conservation Law. It may be cut loose in the woods, and allowed to roam at large, to aid the hunter in hunting a specific roster of prey: foxes, bunnies, raccoons, certain birds, coyote and bear, during their respective seasons. Keep in mind, now, that NO dog may be used to hunt or chase deer or moose, ever. But how are dogs trained to know the difference? Who is training these dogs, and how? I thought the law might have specified that there was some type of training standard. Yet, after pouring over the relevant laws, I could find no requirement that the dog be trained at all, nevermind a definition of the standard. So, in theory, a dog with no training and no ability to discern between a fox, moose, or it’s own asshole, is perfectly entrusted to capably hunt specific animals during specific seasons, simply because the owner decided to take it hunting.
I called the Game Warden in early July to state my skepticism about dog training, ask what rights I have as the property owner to keep others hunting dogs off my property, and also finally ask why dogs are never allowed to hunt deer or moose. He was very helpful, and characterized the situation by saying that there are some very well-trained, professional hunting dogs out there, taught on specific animal scents, that he sees more often in southern Maine where the parcels are smaller and owners are touchier about their property boundaries, so hunters themselves have been trained to keep tight reign over their hunting dogs. Often, however, he noted that the further you get from coastal and populated southern Maine, the more often you’ll encounter dogs with “questionable” training, as they run free over thousands of acres of contiguous wooded parcels at will. I was told that while the hunting dogs and their owners indeed have absolutely no right to be on our property if we’ve posted it or otherwise directly informed the hunter, it’s very difficult to enforce because dogs pretty much do what they want (presumably they can’t read Posted signs.)
He suggested that the best course of action if this happens again, is to inform the hunters that you will allow them this one time to remove their dogs from your property, but after that you plan to call the warden to remove the dog. Oooooh – scary. I’m sure they’ll really think twice about cutting their dogs loose, when they receive their hand-delivered pooch during midday beer break, and proceed to face precisely no actual consequences whatsoever! Oh, and on that last item, the bit about why no dog is allowed to hunt deer or moose? Well, certainly don’t be so naive to think that Maine has any vested interest in the inherent value of the life of the deer or the moose itself; they’re protected so that we can hunt them in plentiful supply – driving game with dogs is so effective we can only use it as a tool on game populations that are already plentiful – even difficult to ‘suppress’ – in Maine. Well, knowledge is power, I suppose, and for the time being I’ll take whatever tools I can get. I thank the Warden for his time.
The morning of Sunday, August 9, that same not-my-dog baying woke me up at 430am. Armed with my rights, and wearing only my nightie, I hurled myself into the side-by-side and announced to a sleeping John loudly, not caring if I woke the 4 and 5 year olds: “I’m getting that dog.” It took me less than 5 minutes to find the culprit, some kind of hound mix with so many collars tightly ringing his neck I couldn’t count – was it 3 or 4? – and two, foot-long GPS antennas with fancy blinking neon lights popping off the sides of the top collar in opposite directions so that the dog looked like some sort of weird furry oversized ant from outer space. I actually felt bad for the poor guy. He was very complacent and allowed me to leash him and “walk” him back to the cabin while trotting next to the Can-Am in low gear. This dog was lost, in every way something can be – not only physically, but there was a brokenness in his spirit that cut through my terse indignation and I suddenly just felt sad. I tied him to Millie’s run while she slept inside and got him some water. Then I called the number on his collar – a Massachusetts area code.
I did the thing the warden had told me to and gave the guy his warning and told him to come get his dog. It took him nearly 3 hours to show up in his jacked-up white Ford pickup with Mass plates, with a dark jacked-up Maine truck not far behind. Three jackass looking 20- and 30- somethings with bedhead and those muscle shirts that have the big loose armpits got out. Their leader, the oldest and least unkempt of the three, apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. John asked him what time they cut the dogs loose (there are laws governing that, which they had clearly violated.) They stared at him stupidly. He asked what they were training the dogs on, invoking more blank stares. One of them might as well have been drooling. They left with that lost, pathetic dog, I swallowed my sadness, and we got on with our Sunday morning cereal.
Exactly 6 days later on Saturday August 15, we happened to be at our farm in Auburn doing work to prepare it for sale and got calls from up in Greenwood – both Charles, who was up there working on the driveway, and Steven. (John’s had a chance to get to know Steven a bit better in the year since we bought the property, and with more familiarity he seems to be friendlier to us; it helps that John’s an easy guy to like. Steven himself turns out to be a pretty reasonable fellow and a decent neighbor, actually.) Anyway between Charles and Steven, and the ensuing call with the Warden, we pieced together the story: a mixed crew from both Maine and Mass had released a pack of hunting dogs likely in the Irish Village that morning, who then made their way up onto our ridge, and chased the bull Moose that lives on Elwell down our new driveway into Twitchell pond at the bottom, where, unattended, they proceeded to attack, exhaust, and eventually drown the Moose. It was such a horrific, painful, traumatic, and unusual death for the Moose that even the warden said in decades of his career he had never seen anything like it. Steven apparently came down with his tractor to address the enormous corpse, and ended up taking him up on the ridge where he was lain to attract coyote.
There was a somber cloud cast over our family that day. That night we drank Jaegermeister. A student of the German language, I had long ago translated and adopted the prose adorning the Jaegermeister (Master Hunter) label: “It is the hunter’s honor, that he protects and preserves his game, hunts sportsmanlike, and honors the Creator in His creatures.” As we would have if we had hunted him ourselves legally, humanely, and in season, we included him in our dinner prayer and thanked him for his life. I chastised myself for not being more stern with the Massachusetts boys. When they came I could have done more. I should have sounded more volatile and crazy. I should have threatened to kill their dog if they came back, even if I wouldn’t have. Could I have saved that Moose? It could have fed a family (or two!) for a year. It might have lived out a peaceful life up on the ridge, eating twigs and berries among his harem of cows and calves. He might have provided future Sanctuary guests with the “emotive self-discovery” we claim to foster, which seeing majestic wildlife in context so often does for people. But none of those are possibilities now. He is dead, and I find myself vacantly putting a lead on Millie to take her for her nightly walk, and look at the aching Greenwood sky at dusk this warm summer evening.