ST. GEORGE — An animal rescue organization in St. George is seeking justice for Lucky, a cat who was shot in the neck and left paralyzed in Hildale last month.
RSQ DOGS+, a nonprofit based in St. George with a mission to rescue abandoned and abused animals in rural areas of Utah, is offering a $7,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for shooting Lucky, a black house cat that is now learning to walk again after getting a bullet lodged close to his spine. The money for the reward came from donations and $5,000 that was pitched in by The Humane Society of the United States.
But it’s not just Lucky that’s been the victim of animal abuse in Hildale and Colorado City, Arizona; many other animals from the area have been victims of rampant abuse and heartless neglect, said Linda Thomas, the volunteer medical director for RSQ DOGS+.
The same week Lucky was rescued on May 26, there was dog rescued from Hildale by RSQ DOGS+ that had a bullet pass completely through its body, leaving wounds on both sides. That dog was named Bullet and is also recovering quickly.
RSQ DOGS+ has rescued over 300 animals from the Hildale and Colorado City area since the rescue organization was established in August 2017, Thomas said. While not all of these animals were injured, all of them were taken by request and with the cooperation of the Hildale Police Department and Colorado City Marshal’s Office, which just received a new police chief on May 30.
“When we keep getting these animals now that are purposely shot and broken, we just said this has got to stop,” Thomas said. “We’ve had animals with chemical burns, several broken legs, and there have been reports of people throwing dogs out of trucks and animals getting hit by cars on purpose — all from the Hildale and Colorado City area.”
Hildale and Colorado City are neighboring cities on either side of the Utah-Arizona border about 40 east of St. George. The community has historically been dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous group.
Lucky the cat
Lucky was found paralyzed in the parking lot of the Subway restaurant in Hildale on May 21 by Christopher Kale, a resident of Colorado City. With help from Subway employees, Kale fed Lucky some pieces of turkey and gave it some water before calling the police.
“It was pretty sick,” Kale said. “I can’t imagine anybody shooting any of God’s creatures like that for sport.”
After receiving Lucky, the Hildale Police Department called volunteers from RSQ DOGS+ to come and pick him up. RSQ DOGS+ volunteers took Lucky directly to a veterinarian for some X-rays, where they discovered the bullet in the cat’s neck.
After receiving physical therapy and treatment at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Lucky was picked up to be fostered by RSQ DOGS+ director Kelli Stokes. Lucky is now slowly starting to walk again.
“He has a very determined spirit to live,” Thomas said.
Mark Askerlund, the newly appointed chief of Colorado City Marshal’s Office, said he believes the person who shot Lucky was a “kid with a pellet gun, but we’re not sure.” There is an active investigation into discovering who shot Lucky, he said.
A history of pets getting shot?
While the two recent pets with gunshot wounds have led to RSQ DOGS+ offering the $7,000 reward and trying to find the people responsible for shooting them, police in the area haven’t seen many instances of cats and dogs getting shot, said Askerlund, who has been in office now for just over a week.
Askerlund said he checked with local dispatch and with his officers to find out if there have been police reports filed of other recent animal shootings besides the shooting of Lucky. The only recent police report on an animal shooting was about Lucky.
“I’ve asked every one of my officers here if we have a problem here of people shooting animals, and they’re just all scratching their heads,” Askerlund said. “No. We’ve had one case.”
When asked about Bullet, the dog that RSQ DOGS+ picked up from police in the Hildale are after it received a gunshot wound on May 26, Askerlund said it may have happened, he just wasn’t aware of it.
“If we go out and pick up a dog or a cat or anything else that is injured, we call RSQ DOGS+,” Askerlund said. “We don’t have an active investigation of mass amounts of animals getting shot here though. I don’t know how it would go undetected.”
The problem is that nobody is reporting animal shootings because they are too scared to report anything or they think nothing would happen if they report it, Thomas said. Since the $7,000 reward has been offered, RSQ DOGS+ has received many calls from people in Colorado City and Hildale about their pets that were shot or animals that were injured by others, including several other cats that were shot and even someone’s horse that had its mane set on fire, Stokes said.
“I can’t even tell you how many calls we’ve received from people about these issues that were just never reported,” Stokes said.
Kale said he has personally heard of several pets getting shot in and around the Hildale and Colorado City area since he moved there. He said he lost his own dog, named Grizzly Bear, last week and spent all night searching for him because he was worried that someone in Colorado City or Hildale would shoot him. He was able to find his dog, but said other dogs in the area may not have been as lucky as Grizzly Bear.
“I’ve think that (shooting pets) has been a common issue lately.”
Because of the attitudes a lot of people have from the FLDS church in Hildale and Colorado City, people may think to shoot roaming dogs for fear the animal would eat and kill livestock, Kale said. Many people in Hildale and Colorado City let their dogs run free without worrying about what they do or what happens to them, Kale said.
“When dogs get into people’s livestock and start eating their chickens or whatever, they have a right to shoot it,” Kale said. “But that’s only if there’s absolutely no other way to get it out of there.”
What disturbs Kale about the shooting of Lucky was that it appears to have been done for fun, especially since cats never hurt or bother anyone, he said.
Raising awareness, making a difference
One of the biggest goals of RSQ DOGS+ is to raise awareness that shooting or hurting animals is not right, Thomas said.
“The majority of people in Hildale and Colorado City are in support of us. There are just a few that are up there telling us that we’re ridiculous offering thousands of dollars for a reward for a cat, they tell us to stay out of their business and that they’ve been shooting cats all their lives.”
Some people within Facebook groups for citizens of Hildale and Colorado City have expressed gratitude for RSQ DOGS+, but others have sometimes harshly criticized the organization’s mission. One commenter on a Facebook post wrote about how what RSQ DOGS+ is doing is part of a “worrisome trend here of infringement into a community’s commonplace culture.” Another Facebook user used strong vulgarity to threaten to kill any cat or dog that he finds in his yard.
“The only way we can help this mentality change is through awareness,” Thomas said. “We need to help educate the community up there that this is against the law. I don’t even know if they all think it’s against the law.”
In addition to it being illegal to shoot an animal, it’s also illegal under state laws in Utah and Arizona to shoot a gun within any city limits.
RSQ DOGS+ also has goals to bring resources like a spay and neuter clinic to the Hildale and Colorado City area so stray animals aren’t “running around repopulating,” Thomas said.
“My main goal is for people to know that even if an animal walks in your yard, you don’t have to shoot it,” Stokes said. “You can call someone and someone can come and get it. That’s the humane option.”
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