The hot dog had been left on the ground beside a forest road in Buffalo Valley, where cattle and dude ranches border Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park. Minutes after a mixed-breed border collie named Salix discovered it and gobbled it down, she was racked by convulsions.
An investigation revealed that the hot dog had been hollowed out, packed with a pesticide called Temik, and then sealed with a plug of cheese. "It's a dreadful thing," says veterinarian Michael Dennis, who helped flush the poison from the collie over the next four days.
Another dog ate a hot dog in Buffalo Valley that week in late March, and suffered a "wretched" death, wildly hurling itself into a glass door with enough force to shatter the glass, its owner reported.
Since February, poisoned meat planted on public and private land around northwest Wyoming and near Salmon, Idaho, has killed at least seven dogs, and sickened at least 13 others. Some locals think the poisoner hates dogs, but Dominic Domenici, a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Casper, believes it's probably a clumsy attempt to kill gray wolves.
Other wildlife agents, environmentalists and wolf opponents also see the poisonings in the context of the bitter local resistance to the federal program that first reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995. More than 700 wolves now roam Montana, Idaho and northwest Wyoming.
"Whoever is putting out the poison ... why else ... if it wasn't for the wolves?" says Lynn Madsen, a hunting outfitter who uses a forest trailhead on the Buffalo Valley road. Though not a fan of wolves, Madsen calls the poisonings irresponsible, and worries his own dogs could be at risk. The poisoners, he says, are "not very smart."
So far, no wolves have been reported victims of the poison, but the casualties apparently include coyotes, foxes and magpies. Federal and state investigations have been launched. On March 20, Idaho wildlife agents led a search of the Salmon home of Tim Sundles, an ammunition manufacturer who used his Web site to publish an article titled, "How to Successfully Poison Wolves." The article recommended the bait method and the pesticide, which is used by potato and beet farmers and sold under various brand names.
The deadly recipe was published in late March in The Advertiser, a shopper printed in Riverton, Wyo. Both Advertiser publisher Mike Rinehart, another vocal wolf opponent, and Sundles have declined to comment. Sundles has admitted shooting a wolf in Idaho, claiming that it had attacked him, his wife and his horses. Anti-wolf activists charge that wolves destroy herds of big game (an exaggeration, according to most biologists) and attack pet dogs.
"It is most unfortunate that these pets (dogs) were victims" of poisoning, wrote Ron Gillet of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, in a letter to the editor published April 8 in the Challis Messenger. "However, it would seem obvious that the poison was not put out for pets but for (imported) Canadian wolves which are devastating our wildlife and also mutilating our pets."
The pesticide can be lethal to humans who merely absorb it through the skin or breathe its dust, so officials have warned people not to touch anything that might be poisoned bait.
The poisonings come even as the Fish and Wildlife Service moves to take gray wolves off the endangered species list, and turn over wolf management to the states. The agency just finished gathering public comment on proposed regulations that in effect would allow Idaho and Montana to begin putting their own plans into action, making it easier to kill wolves that prey on game animals as well as on livestock.
But the agency rejected Wyoming's wolf plan in January, because the state would classify any wolves found outside of two national parks and a few wilderness areas as predators that can be shot on sight. Wyoming's government has refused to back down, however, and the state sued the federal government on April 22, demanding that its plan be approved.
The poisonings are "a perfect example of why the federal government is feeling leery about Wyoming," says Mac Blewer of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "We're not ready to manage our own wolves with this sort of lunacy."
Anyone with information about the location of these suspicious food items, or about the person(s) responsible, is asked to call Crimestoppers Inc., (307) 733-5148; U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Dave Griffel, (208) 542-5822; or the Bridger-Teton Law Enforcement Officer, Shane Wasem, (307) 739-5573.
The author is a reporter for the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
High Country News (www.hcn.org) covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.)