Two women were found guilty of hunter harassment after deflating the tires of a bear hunter’s truck and releasing a German shepherd that attacked and severely injured a leashed bear hound, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
The incident occurred on Oct. 9 near the 26,000-acre Groton State Forest in northeastern Vermont. A bear hunter named Theodore Shumway was hunting with two companions in the state-owned forest when a black bear led his hounds onto an adjacent parcel of private property.
In Vermont, hunters are allowed to retrieve wayward hounds from unenclosed private property, even if they don’t have express permission to actively hunt said land.
In an effort to retrieve his dogs, which he was actively monitoring with GPS collars, Shumway and his party parked on the side of a public road and entered the privately-owned area where the hounds had treed the bear. According to authorities, the hunters did not shoot the bear and left it in the tree after retrieving the hounds.
When Shumway and his fellow hunters returned to the truck with the hounds in tow, they encountered Donna Babic and Betty Eastman, both of nearby Groton, in the act of deflating their tires.
Unsurprisingly, a heated argument between the hunting party and the truck vandals ensued. According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department—which headed up an investigation that ultimately led to guilty verdicts for both of the accused on Nov. 22—after the verbal altercation, Babic released a German shepherd from Eastman’s vehicle, which violently attacked one of Shumway’s leashed hounds.
“The German shepherd's attack on the leashed hound resulted in severe injury that required veterinary care,” Vermont Game Warden Col. Jason Batchelder told MeatEater. “Mr. Shumway’s vet bill was well in excess of $2,000.”
The injured dog, a female English hound named Sadie, sustained wounds to her head, legs, and pelvis. The most serious wounds occurred where the German shepherd bit her in the pelvic region.
According to a description in the veterinary bill, bite wounds extended deeply into the muscles and into the bones of the hound's pelvis. A small piece of bone was badly damaged and broken off, and the vet placed a drain in one of the pelvic wounds to prevent infection.
After the attack, Shumway called 911, and Vermont State Troopers arrived on the scene.
Babic told responding officers that she had intended to “make a statement” with her actions.
“I saw them come up through, and I knew they were illegally on the land, so we came up here,” Babic said in a recorded statement captured by an officer's body camera. “We let a little air out of the tires. We wanted them to stay here because they were illegal. My underlying first thought would be that I’m sick and tired of bear dog hunting in the neighborhood, and that I knew they were illegal. I was trying to make a statement.”
The troopers ultimately handed the investigation over to VFWD. Game warden Mike Scott, whose territory covers much of northeastern Vermont, determined that Shumway and his hunting party were fully-licensed and acting within their legal rights when they entered the private property to retrieve their dogs.
According to Scott, neither Eastman nor Babic own the land upon which Shumway’s dogs ended up treeing the bear, but they do live nearby.
Babic told the responding troopers and investigators with VFWD that she did not intend to release the German shepherd but accidentally let it out of Eastman’s back seat in the wake of the heated argument.
“It doesn’t quite add up to me, but her adamant statement is that she did not intend to release the dog into the situation,” Scott told MeatEater. “The fact of the matter is that the woman who released the dog rode to the scene in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, and then, when she returned to the vehicle after the argument, she opened the rear driver’s side door.”
For their role in the incident, Eastman and Babic were cited by VFWD with violations of Title 10 VSA 4708, a state statute that prohibits individuals from interfering with the lawful take of fish and game. They were each fined $262 and will lose their hunting and fishing privileges for a year-which seems unlikely to cause them problems.
According to Scott, the warden, Eastman said that she will voluntarily pay Shumway’s vet bills, but he has been unable to confirm that the bill has been paid. If the bill is not paid voluntarily, the prosecutor’s office in Caledonia County Superior Court will seek restitution.
"Vermonters don't always agree on wildlife management, especially when it comes to big game,” Batchelder said in a press release issued by the department on Dec. 14. “Even so, I would ask that Vermonters respect one another's constitutional right to hunt. Intentionally interfering with legal hunters in any fashion will result in court action, especially in a potentially dangerous fashion as we saw in this case."