CONCORD, N.H. — The death of a brown-and-white, mixed breed named Bruno on the northern fringe of New Hampshire's White Mountains has sparked an angry response from animal rights activists who want to ban owners from using a gun to "put down" old, sick or dangerous dogs.
"It was done in such a cruel manner. The dog was shot multiple times and left to die," said Katie Treamer, one of the founders of Justice For Bruno, a group lobbying to make it a felony to shoot a pet to death in New Hampshire. "In this day and age, it's just not a responsible way to euthanize a pet."
A humanely placed bullet is a generations-old method of dispatching pets in rural parts of the country where a veterinarian's syringe can be expensive and hours away. And even those angry at how Bruno died say outlawing the practice isn't likely because it is so deeply ingrained in the nation's agrarian traditions, where farmers and ranchers have long put down domestic animals with a gunshot.
New Hampshire is among 27 states plus the District of Columbia that have no laws governing "emergency euthanasia," according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Justice For Bruno has contacted state officials and its change.org petition has more than 36,000 signatures in support of a new law.
State Rep. John Tholl, who lives in New Hampshire's north country and chairs the House public safety committee, said a ban on shooting a pet as a form of euthanasia faces long odds, especially in rural states.
"It's been common practice for people up here to put down their animals — not just dogs — because they're hurt in such a way that they can't be saved or they're so old that they need to be relieved of suffering," Tholl said. "And the cost to do that through a vet is quite expensive."
The dog whose death prompted calls for new legislation, however, was not injured.
Bruno was found shot four times in September in the former timber city of Berlin. Bruno's owner, Ryan Landry, said in a Facebook posting he was forced to put down the year-and-a-half old dog because it had bitten his children. Landry declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press.
Treamer said Landry had other options, including returning Bruno — no questions asked — to the shelter where he was adopted. If the dog truly was dangerous, then medical euthanasia administered by a trained professional would have been the preferred way to end Bruno's life, she said.
State laws restricting emergency euthanasia vary.
Maine's law is explicit: "An animal may be shot if it is restrained in a humane way, it is performed by a highly skilled and trained person using a weapon that will produce instantaneous death by a single shot." Several states allow law enforcement, veterinarians or animal welfare workers to shoot a pet if the animal is injured, sick or dangerous. In New York, "no person shall euthanize any dog or cat by gunshot except as an emergency procedure for a dangerous dog or a severely injured dog."
Tholl also says shooting is humane when done right.
"Let's face it, there are people who are qualified to put down an animal with one shot," he said.
Growing up on a western Massachusetts farm, John Gralenski, now 80, sometimes had to put down sick or injured pets. He never liked it but he adamantly opposes outlawing the practice.
"I think they should have that right," said Gralenski, who lives in rural Shelburne, on the New Hampshire-Maine line. "When I was a kid, we always had dogs and if it was my dog and the dog got sick, there wasn't any money for a vet."
Once he had to put a dog out of its misery after it got hit by a car and broke its hip.
"I was just a kid and it was my responsibility," he said.
A decade ago, Gralenski adopted Zelda, a now-13-year-old beagle rescued in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He knows he'll eventually face a decision about how to put her down.
"Zelda and I are buddies," he said. "It's probably been 15 years since we had one (that needed to be put down). It does not get easier in your old age. I guess it depends on how I feel financially at the time."
Joanne Bourbeau, the Vermont-based northeastern regional director for the Humane Society of the United States, acknowledged that enforcement might be difficult but just having a law on the books could serve as a deterrent.
"We would have a way to follow up," she said. "With the veterinary forensics we have now, it's very easy to prove that a crime was committed."
Christopher Almy, district attorney in Maine's Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, said his office has prosecuted plenty of animal cruelty cases over his three decades of service but he couldn't recall bringing a case against someone for putting their pet down. One recent case focused on a woman who shot and killed her entire herd of 10 goats, though the cruelty charge stemmed from the condition of a couple of the goats, not the way they were killed.
For her part, Treamer says times have changed and there are far better ways to end a pet's life. She couldn't imagine such a death for Dozer, her 5-year-old, pit bull-boxer mix.
"Just because that's the way it's always been done, that's not the way it should still be done," she said.