While wolves are struggling to increase their numbers from all-time lows, several states have decided that this is a swell time to start killing them for fun. Care2 reported on a new policy permitting shooting wolves on sight in Wyoming. Montana extended its hunting season to give hunters a chance to meet the “quota” of killing 40% of the state’s wolf population. Since Congress stripped wolves of Endangered Species status in 2011, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico and Idaho have declared open season on wolves.
So what does this bloodshed have to do with domesticated dogs?
Wisconsin is also permitting wolf hunting, and that state’s hunters plan to use dogs to track wolves, claiming that the dogs are “essential to success.” TH Online.com reports that animal advocates are more interested in protecting hunting dogs from “potentially deadly confrontations with wolves” than in ensuring productive hunts. The dispute has gone to court, as Care2′s Alicia Graef reported; a local judge who temporarily banned the use of dogs in wolf hunting is set to hold a hearing on the case on September 14th.
The hunters paint a dire portrait of failure and disappointment should they be denied the help of dogs. One hunting advocate “said hunters who can’t use dogs won’t kill wolves.” The heart bleeds for him.
Among the growing list of states legalizing wolf hunting, Wisconsin is alone in attempting to allow hunters to use dogs to hunt wolves, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. According to TH Online.com, “a lawyer for the plaintiffs said other states’ wolf hunts are expected to be successful even without dogs, and he cited Montana as a state that’s had a successful wolf season without dogs.” How is it that hunters in every other state anticipate or have completed successful hunts without dogs? Are Wisconsin wolves wilier than the rest? Or are Wisconsin hunters more bloodthirsty?
It seems that Wisconsin’s jolly beer-and-cheese reputation hides a very dark side: over 20,000 Wisconsin hunters have applied for permits to kill wolves. The 1,160 winners will be selected by lottery, according to the Rockford Register Star.
Wisconsin hunters’ dogged insistence on using their pets to help them hunt opens a curtain on some messed-up mental patterns. How can they love their pet dogs while killing innocent wolves for “fun”?
One explanation comes from a study by the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, which studied the mind games people play in order to eat “meat animals” while loving domesticated pets. ”Many people like eating meat, but most are reluctant to harm things that have minds. Our studies show that this motivates people to deny minds to animals,” researcher Dr. Brock Bastian said. Bastian calls this the “meat paradox.”
A similar phenomenon may be at work among Wisconsin hunters. They may deny that wolves have “minds,” while corralling their dogs into a separate category of animals who do have “minds,” or at least some characteristic making them worthy of human love and protection. This helps them overcome the cognitive dissonance of holding conflicting beliefs: that some animals are to be loved and others executed.
Animal advocates in Wisconsin might disagree that hunters are really loving and protecting their dogs, as they fear that including dogs in wolf hunts places the dogs in danger of death. It seems hard to argue the point: wolves are dangerous, especially when threatened.
(The government only recently removed Endangered Species status from gray wolves in Wyoming. In response, Defenders of Wildlife filed notice of its intent to sue the Obama administration to restore the protections for Wyoming wolves. Under federal law it cannot file the actual lawsuit for another 60 days, which will leave Wyoming’s wolves unprotected for over a month unless the administration reverses its decision before September 30, the day the wolves become fair game.)
Animal advocates aren’t the only ones opposed to the goings-on in Wisconsin. Indian tribes consider wolves sacred and vigorously oppose the decision to open a wolf-hunting season.
“The wolf, Ma’iingan, is considered sacred by the Ojibwe and figures highly in their creation stories,” Indian Country reports. Tribal member Essie Leoso said that “killing a wolf is like killing a brother.”
The rationale for hunting wolves, at least in some states like Wyoming, is that they are suspected of killing livestock. In other parts of the world, more creative people have come up with a way to use dogs to protect livestock from potential predators without anyone dying. Writing on Petside.com, Lavanya Sunkara profiles a program in Namibia that trains domesticated dogs to protect livestock from cheetahs. The program has helped save cheetahs, who were being killed in large numbers by farmers trying to protect their animals. Thanks to the guard dogs, cheetahs have found other prey and attacks on livestock have dropped precipitously.
If only wolf hunters in Wisconsin were more interested in saving lives than taking them, like the farmers in Namibia, their dogs might be a lot safer.