A string of animals being shot in the Utah town of Hildale has left the community fighting over whether such behavior is abuse — or just part of how things have always been in the small, mostly polygamous community.
In the past few months, St. George’s RSQ Dogs has been called out to Hildale to rescue dogs and cats that have been shot by either guns or pellet guns. The nonprofit has set up a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator.
The first victim was found in September, a pitbull that had been shot with a .22. Hildale law enforcement, which had impounded the dog, called RSQ Dogs to come pick him up.
“We had two vets and had him up to the specialty vet in Las Vegas,” said Kelli Stokes, the director of RSQ Dogs. “We did everything we could for him, but he passed away.”
The second victim was a cat named Lucky who had been shot near the end of May. After being treated by a vet, it was determined the black cat had a bullet lodged near his spine. According to Linda Thomas, the medical director of RSQ, Lucky couldn’t move or even lift his head.
“The vet thought that he may be too far gone. They said he had lost 60 percent of his blood volume,” Thomas said. “He was in really bad shape.”
Lucky was taken to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, where he received physical therapy for a few weeks. He is back with RSQ Dogs, continuing his therapy as he learns to walk again.
“Every day, he gets better,” Thomas said. “The bullet went into his neck and is lodged in his shoulder, really close to his spinal column. They don’t want to remove the bullet.”
A few days after Lucky was found, RSQ Dogs was called back to Hildale to pick up a German shepherd mix who had also been shot. Named Bullet, the dog had an entry and exit wound but was able to recover. The rescue also picked up a cat named Wilson who had an old gunshot wound that had healed.
After Bullet was picked up, RSQ Dogs posted on a Facebook community page for Hildale called Creekers Helping Creekers, saying there was a reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of whoever was committing the animal abuse. The now-deleted post exploded with community members arguing whether it was OK to shoot the animals.
“We got a lot of good comments saying this has been going on forever. People just shoot animals out here. They just do it for fun because they’re playing around with guns,” Thomas said. “And then there are people who are using very foul language, telling us to mind our own business.”
Stokes says she thinks the culprits are teenage boys who are shooting the animals for target practice. Since posting the reward, she has been contacted by several community members relating stories of their own animals being shot.
“That’s why we did the reward,” Stokes said. “If they understand that it’s a really big deal, maybe it will make people think a little bit more.”
Thomas hopes the reward and the awareness will change things in the community.
“It’s been going on for so long in that community because that community has kind of had its own laws. Nobody has really been following the laws of the land,” Thomas said. “I posted on there the actual Utah code against animal cruelty. And I got responses like, try and tell me what I can do on my own property.”
Hildale, a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border, recently hired a new police chief after a judge ordered Hildale and Colorado City to implement changes designed to create more equitable policing.
The $7,000 reward is funded by donations to RSQ Dogs, and a donation from the Humane Society of the United States. RSQ Dogs organizers say law enforcement is supportive of the award.
“We want to send a message to the community that’s it’s not OK,” Thomas said. “If it takes arresting someone to do it, so be it.”