I had plans to meet three friends at Rye Recreation Center this morning at 10:00AM for a walk in the woods with our dogs. This is something we do fairly often, during the week, not usually a busy Saturday morning like today. The trails are easy. Dogs are welcome off leash. People are friendly. We all have had full stressful weeks and walks help.
My seven pound chihuahua, Atlas, and I arrived early. The clock in my car read 9:50AM. That clock is a few minutes fast. In reality, it was around 9:46-47AM. When I pulled into the park I thought, Cool. I have a long stressful day ahead of me – early is good. I’ll sit in my warm, cozy car and play cards or read the morning news on my phone while I wait.
The overflow parking lot by the trail entrance was closed off. I think they may close it off after the first snowfall, no need keeping it open and plowed all winter long. I parked in the outer, plowed parking lot in between two cars and directly facing the trail entrance across the overflow parking. I turned off my car as looked down to grab my phone. With the engine and music stopped I could hear noise outside. I looked up again.
I’d estimate I was around 85-100 yards (edited: I said feet before) away from the trail entrance. The police department would have the actual distance as I later watched them take the measurement from the scene to my driver’s side wing mirror.
I heard a woman screaming and dogs – barking and/or growling – big dogs. What I saw was chaotic. Dogs. People. Just two larger dogs, I thought. All were in somewhat close proximity from my vantage point but they were not so close that I perceived any kind of physical altercation. The people were not in *touching distance* of each other. The two dogs also did not appear to be in any kind of physical altercation.
The image was a blurred one, not so much in clarity, but in movement and quickness. The picture itself was fairly clear. Three people. Couple of big dogs. Screaming woman. I wear contacts which typically provide me with 20/15 vision if I don’t leave them in too long. This particular pair are fresh, clean and clear.
In those first few seconds (minutes?) my brain assessed the screaming woman as safe. The dogs as an issue but not requiring my involvement. It appeared to be some kind of thing with dogs but I didn’t see the dogs going after each other. I did not see any little dogs at this point. The people were also far enough away from each other for me to feel as though no person was in immediate harm’s way.
In my mind the two big dogs belonged to separate people. They were trying to get their dogs away from each other and the woman screaming was probably scared. I get it. I used to own two puggles (beagle/pug mixes just under 30lbs). They were reactive dogs. Walking them was stressful. They would be fine, happy and running along one minute then some random dog would come up to say hello and my dogs would try and eat them… or each other. Maybe not so dramatic but in those moments it sure felt that way. It was such an issue that I would only walk one at a time when I knew other dogs would be present, keeping them – always – on leash. Eventually, I didn’t walk them around other dogs at all. Too much risk.
The screams from the woman sounded like the screams of desperation not fear much how I felt when my own dogs would act aggressively toward other dogs.
I took a deep breath. I pet Atlas and I thanked him for being a friendly dog then reached, again, for my phone.
I heard some yelping then a “POP!” and more yelping. I gasped. I looked up, immediately. I saw two upright bodies near a dog on the ground and the same screaming woman a good 15 feet away (and moving). Arms flailing. Screaming more loudly. I opened the door and jumped out of the car. I would say, not more than two seconds after I heard the gunshot.
I stood next to my car and looked toward the trail entrance. Not more than a second or two, just enough time to let my brain really register what had happened. Gunshot. Dog down. A couple calling the name of another dog. Yelping. Small dog yelping? I don’t remember seeing a small dog. The woman screaming louder, staggering, partially collapsing, standing up and throwing her arms in the air, repeating that cycle… again and again.
“He shot my dog. OH MY GOD. He shot my dog. What do I do? Who shoots a dog….NO… why???” By this point she was – at least – 15 feet away from the dog that was down. She was headed toward the main parking lot where I was but not purposely – I don’t think. She seemed to be moving somewhat aimlessly. Lost. Confused. Heartbroken.
How can I best help? I asked myself. The couple were walking toward me calling nervously for a dog. Then a little dark pomeranian came running in my direction. I realized that was who the couple was looking for. That’s how I can help. I could grab this pup. I spotted it going under the car next to mine. I knelt down, made eye contact, and called it myself. It looked injured and scared.
When it got under the car the yelping turned to whimpers. I could still hear angry barking in the background. There was no way this dog was coming to me, a little ball of fluff, I had determined to be smaller than my own Atlas. I guessed around 5 pounds. I’m no stranger to little dogs besides the chihuahua, that was with me, we have two small pomeranians. They were, thankfully, back at home.
I told the couple their pup was under the car. Then I ran to help the woman and the other injured dog. It was a huge dog, beautiful. I thought it had to be at least 100lbs most likely more. It looked like some kind of giant husky but not a husky. I would later learn it to be an Alaskan Malamute.
I glanced over at the Malamute, it wasn’t moving or whining that I could tell. It didn’t occur to me, yet, that it might be dead. I just thought the woman was in such distress that it was best to check in with her first. I went over to her. The other big dog was close to her. They were both about 25 feet away from the Malamute. The dog with her – I’ll call the Coonhound as the paper later reported it to be – was barking aggressively in my direction. The woman seemed almost unaware of its existence. Still lost. That desperation I perceived shifting to despair. And who could blame her? What a terrible ordeal. I can’t begin to *know* what she was truly feeling. I can only say what I saw from the outside.
“How can I help you?” I asked as I tried to approach her. I wanted to hug her. I put my hand on her shoulder. I felt her pull away a little so I took my hand off her shoulder. The angry Coonhound barking encouraged me to back away.
She screamed, “Call 9-1-1. Someone, please call 9-1-1!”
I noticed the phone in her hand but she seemed unable to do anything with it.
“OK! I’ll go get my phone. I’ll be right back.”
I ran to my car. I passed the couple with the pom. The wife was tending to the injured dog in her car. The man was standing just behind the car. He said to the wife calmly, “No, I’m going to stay here until the police get here.”
I made note of how calm, humble even, he said this. I felt absolutely no fear of this man. None. In a strange way his very energy calmed me. In contrast everything about the woman and her dogs had the opposite effect on me.
I grabbed my phone and headed back to the woman. As I passed back by the couple I heard the man say, again, he was waiting for the police. I noticed he had his phone out. He looked like he was about to dial.
“Are you calling the police?” I asked him. He was. I thanked him and continued over to the woman who was still screaming.
“He’s calling the police. Breathe. I’m going to check on your dog.” Which I was still surprised she wasn’t with.
“Oh, I don’t even know if he’s ok. Is he OK?”
Meanwhile the Coonhound continues its aggressive barking in the direction of anyone so much as looking at the woman. It was clearly scared and protecting her.
“I don’t know. I’m going to go see.” At this point I still thought the dog was alive. I walked over. The dog was *not* alive. She looked back at me and wailed louder.
“Is he OK?”
A man walks out from the woods. He heard the gunshot and sees me standing over the dog.
“Oh my god. I heard the gunshot. Is that your dog?”
“No. It’s hers. I. I. I. I was just checking on it.”
The woman turns back to us. “Oh my god is it dead? Is it dead?!” More wailing and yelling. “It’s not even my dog. It’s not my dog. It’s my son’s dog. He shot my son’s dog.”
I stop there, shut out everything happening for a minute and text my friends. That was at 9:51am.
A dog was shot
The walk was supposed to be a much needed stress reliever. I didn’t want any of them to have to deal with seeing a beautiful dead and bloodied dog.
At this point I start to approach the woman again. The Coonhound is still unleashed and aggressively barking (understandably – as its friend just got shot). It occurs to me this other dog needs to be contained before things get worse.
“Can we get your other dog in the car?”
She seems mostly unresponsive. Yelling. She has someone on the phone. I assume it to be 911. If I approach her the dog steps toward me. I’m intimidated. I’m afraid of this dog. I’m not afraid of dogs. I’m afraid of *this* dog in *this* moment. The woman, the dog’s owner, appears completely unaware.
My mind goes back to how best I can help? I can’t calm the woman. I can’t get close enough to try with this angry dog. Geez this could get worse if the police show up and this dog is still unrestrained and behaving like this. The best thing I can do – right now – is get the living dog in a safe place.
I ask her again about a leash. She grabs the dog by the collar but it’s just pulling at her arm. “That’s not going to be enough. We need a leash.” I ask the guy that came out of the woods if he has a leash. I look around for a leash. I walk back over to the dead malamute and see a leash on the ground. I pick it up. I walk back to the woman.
“Can you put this on your dog?”
“Do you think you could? He shot my dog.” She is talking on the phone, to me and holding the dog by the collar. She’s not yelling. I look at the dog, show it the leash, and smile. He juts forward and barks jarring the woman’s arm. The dog looks like it wants to eat me, like my puggles. I just want to hug the poor thing but I know it’s not safe.
“It’s really scared. I really don’t think it wants anything to do with me. I think this is really important. Please. You don’t want it loose barking like this when police and more guns show up. The dog will be safest in your car. Can we try?”
She reluctantly takes the leash and clicks it on the dog. I feel a sigh of relief but she isn’t walking the dog toward the car. It’s still barking and pulling while she is standing talking on the phone. I ask her again to walk with me to the car.
She tries handing me her keys and the leash, “It’s the Subaru do you think you could? If you feel comfortable?”
I wanted to. I looked at the dog. I started to reach out, softly, but knew it was a bad idea and pulled back. This dog was terrified. I looked at the woman. “I don’t think it wants anything to do with me. I can walk with you. Can we walk together?”
She hands me the phone and walks the dog to the car. I try speaking to the person but all I hear is dead air. She puts the Coonhound in the car. I give her back the phone. I offer her a one armed hug. She leans on me.
I’m heartbroken for this woman. She looks at me. “How could he do this? Who shoots a dog? He could have shot me. I was hugging the dog when he shot him.”
“What? You what? He what?”
While I could not be absolutely sure this wasn’t an accurate statement. It did not – at all – fit into my observations of the event. I had seen the woman yelling at a distance from the man and the dog from the moment I parked. I did not watch the entire time, there were seconds I didn’t see and I was a good distance away but… this one piece did not (does not) fit. I only saw standing people.
“I was on top of the dog. He could have shot me.”
“That sounds frightening. I’m so sorry. It’s heartbreaking.” I did not agree with her. It was not my perception of what happened. But she clearly perceived it this way.
She looked clean (no dirt, leaves, ice or snow on her) and unharmed (physically). She had not a drop of blood on her – at least not that I saw. Something I noticed at the time but the significance didn’t register until I was reflecting later on why it bothered me so much when she said she was hugging the dog when he shot it. Wouldn’t she have had some blood on her or at least leaves?
I am sure at some point she tried to grab the dog. Maybe right before I pulled up or before it got the pom? I don’t know. I don’t really want to speculate. It’s not my job. But as a witness it is my job to be clear on what I saw and what I didn’t. I did not, at any point, see her “hugging” or “on top of” the malamute.
I want to break here to add. I *hate* guns. There isn’t much in life I hate but guns? Not a fan. Not just in the hands of civilians but the role they play as a tool of war and death. I really freakin’ hate guns. I not a fan of first person shooter games either or most any glorification of guns.
Dogs? I *love* dogs. I love animals. I’m vegan – for ethical reasons. I live my life with a daily effort to reduce suffering for all animals. Seeing that beautiful dog laying dead in the snow was not an easy thing for me. Hearing a gunshot and a woman shrieking was not an easy thing for me. Writing this is not an easy thing for me.
Sharing it will be even harder.
I told the woman to sit and breathe. I turned toward the man who had shot the dog and walked toward him. His wife was driving away. I snapped at him, “Why is she leaving?!”
He calmly, with clear heartbreak in his voice, “She’s taking him to the vet. We don’t know if he’s going to make it either.”
“Oh. God. I’m so sorry.”
“I feel so terrible. I tried. I tried everything. I tried deflecting the dog this way then that way. I tried pushing it. I tried…. everything. He had him in his mouth. He just kept going. I’m so sorry. I want to tell her…” He looked in the direction of the woman. “I’m so sorry. It was a beautiful dog and I’m sure you loved your dog like we love ours.”
Still a little snappy, “Why did you have to kill it? I just wish you hadn’t killed it. Maybe shoot it in the leg?”
“I am sorry. It had our dog in its mouth. I tried.”
After a brief break the woman starts wailing again, loudly. “What am I supposed to do?? Somebody please tell me what to do? I don’t know what to do? Do I call my son?” She a walks in our direction. “Somebody, please, tell me what to do.”
I go over to her and put my arm around her shoulder. “The first thing you do is breathe. It sounds crazy, I know, but you’ve got to. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”
“My son. Do I call him?”
“Yes, call him but breathe FIRST. You want to be there for him. This is going to be hard. It’s going to hurt. You’re his mom. You want to be able to be there for him. Breathe.” She did, for a short time.
About then one of my friends pulled in, Julie. She was followed by the police.
“I need to call my husband.” The woman said and walked toward her car.
The arrival of the police was a little chaotic for my senses. Those first few minutes I didn’t register all of what was happening, in part, because I hugged my friend and shared my story with her.
The man went to the police without incident. He sat in the back of the cruiser. He gave his story. He surrendered his gun. The woman continued to wail. She called her son and husband. They arrived separately. First, the son and his partner (?) later the father. Both the son and the father angrily charged the police car screaming obscenities and threats immediately upon exiting their vehicles.
Pieces I don’t know where fit in the story above but are part of the story above… The woman, at least twice, confirmed to me that the malamute had the pom in it’s mouth – and not as a friendly gesture. She also stated she couldn’t control the big dogs.
An officer gave me a form to fill out with my statement. “Do you have your own pen?”
“Yes, I’ll do my best but I think I really need to type this and it’ll be pages long. Maybe I could bring it by later?”
“Just do what you can. You can wait in your warm car. We’ll come back over and follow-up.”
I decided I’d go home and write up things – later in the evening – while it was still fresh and processing – regardless of whether I ended up bringing it back to the PD or not. Just for my own head. When I read the article in the paper I felt it necessary to share the story with the public.
While I waited for the police to talk to me more…I heard bystanders disgusted with the “nut job” with the gun. I heard people call him a psychopath. The woman came up to thank us and ranted about how now she was going to “fix the gun laws” – I still find it shocking how quickly it jumped to gun control.
I hate guns. This was a man who was legally carrying a firearm. A 100+ pound Malamute had his five pound pomeranian in its mouth, biting it. The woman did not have the dog under control. From what I could see she had NEITHER of her dogs under her control. The man didn’t threaten. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t impulsively wave a gun around. He calmly tried to peaceably extricate his own beloved fluff ball from the massive jaws of this angry, uncontrolled ginormous dog. It doesn’t work. He assesses the situation, sees no alternative for his dog’s survival then calmly, withdraws his weapon and shoots the offending dog. He then re-holsters his gun.
There was *nothing* reckless about his conduct. Nothing. He acted reasonably. People seems to be rushing (with the help of that terrible article that is so bad I don’t want to link it) to hang this man. Calling him names. Making assumptions. Knee-jerk reactions. Politicizing it. Screaming gun control.
Dog killing, scum.
I’m still sitting here dumbfounded the man was even charged. I was there. I didn’t feel threatened for one second by the man with the gun. I did feel intimidated by the angry family members. I still do. Are they going to be angry at me? Do I have to worry?
New Hampshire has a law to protect people from arrest in this sort of situation.
So, instead they arrest him on a “related” charge. I get it. The family was loud, angry and intimidating. If he wasn’t arrested that would have been an issue. The family came over to me after he was arrested and thanked me for my help with the police and the kindness my friend and I had shared with them. The compassion was real. I meant it. I still want to comfort them. I want to take their pain away. I want to bring their dog back. I can’t. I know.
I just don’t think this man was in the wrong. Legally, he wasn’t. Morally, he wasn’t. I ache for the owner and family of the Malamute. Heartbreaking. NO QUESTION. I don’t want to cause the more pain. I don’t. It’s so sad.
I’ve seen firsthand how anger and outrage can distort perceptions. It might feel better to lash out in the short term. It might smother some of the sadness and grief. I’d hate for misdirected anger to ruin this man’s life.
I hope the charges are dismissed. I think they are invalid. I saw absolutely NOTHING reckless about that mans behavior. I did see others behave recklessly. I saw nobody else charged.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is some photos for size comparison and information I found last night for context.
I dislike breed specific prejudices, that said, some breeds do have specific traits: Good and Bad. I found in my research that Alaskan Malamutes, while wonderful and loving with people, can be animal aggressive: specifically dog aggressive. Most often with dogs they don’t know of the same gender.
I could provide countless links as my search results for “alaskan malamute aggression” yielded tens of thousands of articles. I linked this for context only. I DO NOT believe in breed discrimination but I do think breed tendencies need to be considered in cases like this… just like the sizes of the dogs involved.
Now a sweet video for size context…and because I need to see something sweet after purging this mess.