In journalism, there’s what you call your dog-bites-man situation. Which is anything too common and expected to be a good story (unless the dog is one of those Resident Evil hellhounds, or the man is Cesar Millan). An example of a dog-bites-man science story is yet another confirmation of Einstein and relativity.
Then there’s your more compelling man-bites-dog scenario. Which is something out of the ordinary (unless the man is competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi, and the dog is a Nathan’s Famous with mustard and sauerkraut). An example of a man-bites-dog science story is the recent claim of neutrinos that move faster than light. Although this particular case might be more accurately called a man-claims-to-bite-dog-but-physicists-really-wanna-get-a-close-look-at-this-dog story.
Every so often, however, we are treated to a dog-shoots-man story. Which is when a dog shoots a man.
The latest dog-shoots-man incident occurred on November 27, when a Utah duck hunter left his 12-gauge shotgun unattended in his boat. The victim got out of the boat to adjust the decoys, at which time his dog allegedly stepped on the gun, causing it to discharge a literal butt-load of pellets—to add injury to insult, 27 pellets wound up in the man’s buttocks.
Initial reports noted that neither the dog nor any ducks were injured. If the gun’s safety was on, the dog would have had to disengage it, which would elevate this shooting from a crime of negligence to a crime of intent, if anybody was going to charge the man’s-former-best-friend.
Sure, charging an animal with a crime seems loony now. But whether the dog meant to shoot could have been a major issue during the Middle Ages. As a Florida State University doctoral student named Jen Girgen pointed out in a 2003 monograph entitled The Historical and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals, “when an animal caused physical injury or death to a human being, the animal was tried and punished by a judge in a secular court.” In 1567 a French magistrate sentenced a pig to be hanged for killing a human. How did they know the pig did it? Somebody squealed.
The dog shooting case may be rare, but deer on the verge of becoming venison seem to even the score with hunters regularly, as evidenced by the results of an Internet search for “deer shoots hunter.” A dead animal’s reflexive kick that finds a trigger seems to be a common method of postmortem revenge, which can only be described as cold comfort.
Although we inkjet-stained wretches gravitate toward animal-shoots-human stories, I learned early on to be wary. I got my lesson back in 1992, when I heard a radio report about a Missouri man who was allegedly shot by a wild turkey. The story got repeated hundreds of times on radio stations and in newspapers after it was picked up by a wire service. The hunter was said to have shot a turkey, after which he tossed the bird and his gun into the trunk of his car. The hunter’s son later opened up the trunk, and the turkey, merely stunned, thrashed around, clawed the trigger and shot the victim—well, the second victim—in the thigh.
Embarking on my own coverage of this important story, I called the Missouri Department of Conservation. At which point an agent told me that the turkey-did-it version “wasn’t brought up until quite a bit after we took statements from the people involved. It almost boils down to a joke.” He also strongly intimated that investigators suspected that the hunter’s son was at fault. Which, if true, would have made for a stressful dinner at that house, as both turkey and wound got dressed.
Fortunately, the turkey hunter healed, the duck hunter will heal and the dog may heel. Which means their license fees can continue to support game management efforts and habitat maintenance. I just recommend hunting with a trusted human—if he sees your dog go for your gun, he can yell, “Duck!”