British Columbia

Hunter shoots and kills therapy dog in front of owner

Valley Calderoni was just coming to the end of her usual Monday hike with her colleague and the 10 dogs under their care from a Squamish, B.C., rehabilitation centre when tragedy struck.

‘I held her and I told her to go, just go — and she died,’ Valley Calderoni says

Kaoru, a four-year-old Tamaskan, was killed in a hunting incident near Squamish, B.C., on Monday (Canine Valley)

Valley Calderoni was just coming to the end of her usual Monday hike with her colleague and the 10 dogs under their care from a Squamish, B.C, rehabilitation centre — when tragedy struck.

Calderoni says as they were gathering the dogs for their return, she heard a loud and unfamiliar bang and instinctively crouched down.

"And I look up, and I see my dog, and she was bleeding," said Calderoni. "I turned around and said, 'Markie, oh my God, my dog has been shot.'"

Calderoni ran to Kaoru, a four-year-old Tamaskan, and while she held the dog, she heard her colleague Markie Blackburn yell: "Put the gun down."

"All I can see is my dog getting shot — her face, her eyes looking at me with absolute disbelief," Calderoni said.

"I held her and I told her to go, just go, and she died."

Kaoru helped autistic children, and as her owner recalled, once helped a grieving husband come to terms with the death of his wife from a car accident.

Squamish RCMP and conservation officers soon arrived, and the hunter remained for questioning.

Conservation officer Kent Popjes says the man was a local resident and had been hunting for some time.

"He was completely co-operative with the investigation," said Popjes. "It appears to be an error in judgment."

Popjes wouldn't say whether the man had mistaken the dog for another animal, but said it is legal hunting season on Crown land for mule deer and black bears. Wolves are also in season in parts of the surrounding area, but not where the shooting took place, according to conservation officers.

The incident happened on Crown land close to the highway near Lucille Lake, half an hour north of Squamish.

Kaoru's 1st owner couldn't care for the traumatized puppy

Calderoni says Kaoru was just a puppy when she was given over to her rehab facility.

Kaoru's owner found it too difficult to care for her after she had become traumatized, anxious and depressed following a cross-Canada flight.

After thousands of hours of training, Kaoru worked at Canine Valley as an emotional therapy dog, helping autistic children and people with emotional challenges.

Calderoni recalls how Kaoru helped one of her clients who was struggling to come to grips with the loss of his wife, who had died in a car accident.

The three went for a walk in the woods, and she asked her client to lie on the ground and take some deep breaths.

"My dog just came and laid on top him, and she let him get it out," she says. "He cried for the first time. He just let go and Kaoru knew what to do."

Message for other hunters

Popjes says it's unclear what charges will be laid, if any, but is cautioning other hunters.

"Take your time, slow down, take a breath and make sure you know exactly what you are shooting at is a safe and legal animal," he said. "As a hunter, it's your responsibility to completely identify the target before you pull the trigger."

Calderoni also wants to ensure this doesn't happen again.

"I don't want anyone to go through the pain of watching your soulmate die in front of you."

The investigation is ongoing. 

Kaoru's first owner couldn't care for the pup after it was traumatized by a cross-Canada flight. (Canine Valley)


Cathy Kearney is a digital journalist with CBC News Vancouver.