Teresa Calafut of Uniondale, PA, is one of the many generous donors who gave to the Petfinder Foundation through Orvis, which all this year has been matching donations dollar-for-dollar (learn more or donate now).
Nearly everyone who gives to the Petfinder Foundation has a deeply personal reason for doing so, and when we learned that Teresa had donated part of the settlement she’d received after her dog Betsy was shot by a hunter, we felt she deserved to tell her story — both as a cautionary tale to fellow pet parents and as a way to honor Betsy’s memory.
I asked Teresa what advice she would offer our readers to help them avoid a similar tragedy. “Remember that there is always the possibility that a hunter is near where you and your dog are hiking,” she said. “Hunting regulations are different in each state, and you need to know what they are for yours. In Pennsylvania, coyotes can be shot any day of the year so there is always a risk. But most of the hunting takes place in the fall; I don’t take the dogs anywhere from September to January unless hunting is prohibited, and they always wear bright orange jackets (from the Orvis catalog). And be aware that hunting is allowed in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like state parks in Pennsylvania.”
Here is Betsy’s story in Teresa’s own words:
Betsy’s adoption and personality
Betsy was a collie mix; she looked like she was part collie, part golden retriever with other breeds mixed in. She was born in March 2005 in North Carolina and she and her brother were rescued from a shelter when they were very young.
I started looking for a dog about that time; I’d had cats for over 20 years but had not had a dog as an adult. I wanted a puppy whom I could raise and be with for many years, through her adulthood and old age. I was kind of looking for a collie-type dog since that is what we had growing up, a mutt who needed a home. A friend at work told me about Petfinder.com, where I found Chicklet, soon to be named Betsy.
When Betsy was 3 months old, the rescue group brought her and a bunch of other dogs up to a rest stop in Carlisle, PA, just south of Harrisburg, and I made the three-hour drive to get her. After I paid the balance of her adoption fee, the rescue person put little Betsy into my arms and I had a dog, a little ball of fluff who just wanted to sit on my lap. I drove the whole way home with her on my lap, then sat on the porch and carried her around the house. She must have been tired and stressed out from the long ride. She slept a lot, then started looking around. Later in the day she helped me plant flowers by digging a hole and she found some sticks to chew and pull. I had prepared a place for her with a bed, toys and water, but she was only interested in following me around.
She grew. I’d had in mind a medium-sized dog, but Betsy had big paws and grew into them, to be about 50 lbs. She was light brown, with some white on her chest, paws and rump and some black on her tail. She was very energetic and a very picky eater and was always thin. But she loved treats and the bones I made for her once a week. She had long fur with curly tendrils around her ears, a long collie nose, and one of her ears sometimes flopped over.
I took her most places with me: to the grocery store, visiting friends and relatives, for ice cream, to dog classes at Petco. She liked to sit in the front seat and look out the window. In the grocery store parking lot, people would laugh at seeing her sitting in the driver’s seat staring straight ahead, as if she were driving. She liked to walk in her wading pool and would swim or walk in the water in ponds and streams. She liked to walk and sometimes sit in the mud; once she almost got stuck in quicksand. I tried to train her to sit in the canoe with me, but she kept jumping in the water and swimming alongside.
She liked to sleep on the couch and on the bed. She got along well with the cats and liked to play with their toys sometimes. She loved their laser toy and would go crazy chasing it. And she really liked their cat food.
She liked to play with sticks and balls, especially fetch, and she liked to tear her toys apart and find the squeaker. But her favorite toy was a Frisbee. She was obsessed; she would play for hours and hours, bringing the Frisbee back and dropping it at someone’s feet; if they didn’t respond, she would nudge it with her nose and stare at it fixedly. She brought Frisbees to anyone who was around and took them for walks and in the car. I kept buying new ones as they were chewed up or disappeared and found a few Frisbees in the yard or field after she died.
We went for walks every day in the field and pasture behind my house. She wasn’t interested in the horses but did get sprayed by skunks a few times. Sometimes we would go for longer hikes in local parks; longer hikes tired her out and she slept a lot the next day, giving me a rest from being continually bumped with a Frisbee. We went camping and hiking in the Adirondack Park in New York; she seemed to enjoy seeing new places and things. Of course she always brought her Frisbee. She was a sweet dog, never ran off anywhere, and everybody always liked her.
Betsy’s last hike
On October 26, 2007, Betsy and I and a group of seven hikers were hiking near Slate Run in the Pine Creek area of central Pennsylvania. Betsy was glad to get out of the car and was running around exploring the woods near the trailhead. There were no signs near the trailhead except the trail sign, no warnings of possible hunters in the area. We started up the Pine Trail, a rugged, steep trail up Hemlock Mountain, then stopped for lunch once we reached the top. As usual, Betsy kept running around while everyone else rested, and I played tug and fetch with her with sticks. Then we started up again along the ridge of the mountain, on Big Trail Road, a grassy, little-used road. Betsy found a puddle and enjoyed walking in it. I waited for her but the others kept on, and she ran to take the lead again. If only she had stayed a minute longer in the puddle. I was in the back of the group.
Up ahead, Betsy stopped at an interesting smell and was there for what seemed like a few minutes. On our right was a wooded area and the steep slope of the mountain; on the left was a more gradual downward slope with an open, brushy hill. Where the hikers were, a large bush on the left prevented a view of the hill on the left, but Betsy, about 30 feet ahead, was in the open area.
It was fast. Someone in the front of the group said, “There’s a hunter,” and immediately I was past the bush to see a hunter aiming a long gun at my Betsy. He was wearing camouflage, without any noticeable orange or reflective wear. I screamed; people shouted, “Don’t shoot!” Then I heard a pop. Betsy was still standing; I thought maybe he missed, but then she took a few steps and fell over on the other side of the road in some grass and leaves. The hunter came over to look at her, I screamed at him to get away from her. He said he thought she was a coyote. We learned later that he was using a scope. He shot her from a distance of about 40 feet. Betsy was shot in the abdomen and back area on her right side. She was shot at about 1:30 p.m.
The hunter said he would go get his truck to take her to a vet and he left. We didn’t know if he would return or not. One of the hikers tried to call 911, but could not get cell reception. Someone started to make a litter from branches and jackets so we could carry her down. Two others bushwacked down through the woods to get help. Another hiker and I sat by Betsy, petting her and talking to her. I tried to stay calm. My life was falling apart.
The hunter came back up the road. The remaining hikers and I put Betsy in the back of the truck and climbed in the back. We drove to a tavern/campground where there were a lot other people around. A woman who said that she was a former army medic looked at Betsy and said that she did not think the wound was severe and applied pressure to Betsy’s wound. Betsy was bleeding onto the bed of the truck. The hunter called around for a vet and located one 30 miles away near Williamsport. The hunter and I went to the vet; the other hikers stayed at the tavern/campground. Two volunteered to drive my car to the vet’s office.
Someone moved Betsy to the floor of the cab of the truck and I sat on the seat above her. The hunter drove fast down the winding road, racing toward the vet, who was waiting outside to meet us. The hunter and the vet carried Betsy inside. There was a trail of blood; there was blood all over. The vet did x-rays and examined her, and then came to talk to me. He said that Betsy had internal bleeding, and that the bullet had fragmented into pieces inside of Betsy. The vet recommended surgery to remove the bullet fragments. The surgery began at 4:30 p.m. and I waited alone in the waiting room until the two hikers who brought my car arrived. They waited with me in the waiting room.
When the surgery was completed, the vet came out and told us that he had removed 14 inches of Betsy’s lower colon and stitched up other sections of her colon. The 14-inch piece was too damaged to save. He removed as many bullet fragments as he could, but couldn’t get them all. Betsy’s stomach also had holes in it. She’d lost a lot of blood; they had to give her three pints. From losing so much blood, her core temperature had dropped and they had her on a heating pad to warm her up again. They had one tube draining from her stomach and another tube draining from her side. He said the first 12 hours were going to be the hardest time for her.
I wanted to stay overnight with Betsy, but the vet told me I couldn’t. Instead, I stayed overnight at a local hotel. In the morning, I called the vet and heard that Betsy had died at 2:00 a.m., in her sleep.
The shooting was investigated by the chief ranger for Tiadaghton State Forest and the report transferred to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The hunter was to be cited for shooting on or across a highway, shooting at game near a road ($100-300 fine), damage to property (Betsy, a fine of $75-200), and damages ($1,700 veterinary bill). The hunter lost his license for one year.
I had a lot of trouble dealing with the representative from the game commission; I got the impression the game commission existed only to protect hunters. The representative I dealt with was difficult to contact; he said he was busy with bear season. He put me off when I requested copies of statements made by other hikers, a copy of the citation or his report of “damage by gunfire.” He never sent them, and kept losing the fax I sent him of the veterinary bill. I got the impression he knew the hunter, and I was dissatisfied with the penalties for killing Betsy. Also I hoped that a court case would set some sort of precedent someone could use in the future so that eventually hunting penalties would be more in line with the crimes committed.
I had trouble finding a lawyer — most said you could only sue for the price of the “property” –- but finally found someone who would sue for damages and infliction of emotional distress. The legal process was slow and stressful, with questionnaires, depositions, evaluations, pretrial meetings, jury selection and finally a settlement meeting. The hunter had hunting insurance and was represented by a team of lawyers from a Philadelphia firm. I took the settlement, not knowing at the time that a settlement could not be cited in a future brief.
I didn’t want the money from the settlement and decided to donate it to pet charities. I had planned to donate to the Petfinder Foundation, and when Orvis said it would match a donation, I sent in a check.
Gracie and Millie
I was devastated after Betsy died. It was hard to get up in the morning and get through the day. An animal communicator I contacted said there was a dog out there who needed me and Betsy would send me a dog, a collie with a white blaze down her nose and white under her chin and on her chest and belly.
I started looking at the dogs who needed homes on Petfinder and thought I would like to adopt two dogs someday, since two dogs was the most I thought I could handle, and young or older dogs and not puppies, since puppies find homes more easily. After a few weeks of looking, I found myself drawn to a collie mix at Collie Concern Rescue in Tennessee. I printed out her picture and kept looking at it several times during the day. Every morning I would look her up on Petfinder. Finally one day I called about her and found out she was born in March 2007, had been rescued from a shelter in August, and was now in foster care. I went through the application process and a few weeks later, just before the holidays, I drove down to Tennessee between snow and ice storms to bring her home with me. She was smaller than Betsy, about 35 lbs., with orange-brown fur, white on her chest, stomach and tail, and with a white blaze down her nose.
Gracie was a happy dog but she had lived with other dogs in her foster home and I thought she would like another dog in the family. In the spring I contacted Collie Concern Rescue and in July I adopted a sable and white rough collie who had been found wandering near someone’s home. They thought she was a young dog, a few years old. I picked her up in Allentown, PA, this time, meeting the dog transport from Tennessee there at 4:00 in the morning. Gracie and Millie got along really well right from the start, and both seemed to like having another dog around.
Gracie and Millie go for car rides, walks and hikes and play together or with their friends. Gracie is 5 this year and Millie maybe around 7 years old. Gracie is a high-energy dog, high-strung and bouncy, and Millie is calm and serene. They are my best friends and I hope we have many more years together.