Federal Trapper Targeted and Killed Dog According to Texas Dept. of Ag

- Trapper violated use restrictions for placing deadly M-44 sodium cyanide devices

- Congressmen have called for oversight hearings on the out-of-control agency responsible, USDA Wildlife Services

Bella two weeks before death by M-44

Bella two weeks before her death
by an M-44 sodium cyanide device

June 18, 2012 -
Our sad story below about Bella, the Walker family's beloved pit bull in Texas whose death to a M-44 sodium cyanide device has garnered significant attention, just became an even bigger story.

We've now learned that the trapper who set the device violated three prime EPA M-44 use restrictions when placing the device. Even worse, his records qualify Bella's death as the "kill" or "take" of an "intentional target."

Read Notice of Violation from Texas Dept. of Agriculture to the trapper | Read full list of M-44 use restrictions

The Texas Wildlife Services trapper involved was working outside his normally assigned work areas. He had requested and received special approval to conduct animal damage control for his father, a county commissioner, on land he leases located next to the Walker family's home. The trapper grossly violated M-44 use restrictions by:

  • setting the M-44 devices in proximity to areas frequented by humans or domestic dogs, where exposure to public and pets is probable;
  • using improper record-keeping; and
  • targeting a domestic dog, a species not specified for use on the label.

The Texas Department of Agriculture also wrote a letter to Predator Defense and a letter to the Walker family warning us about the extreme dangers posed by M-44s and the risks involved with being at the scene where Bella died. The irony of their letters is that we were not the ones who put the Walkers in harm's way—Wildlife Services did. We didn't kill their dog—Wildlife Services did. We warned the Walkers to use extreme caution around the M44s and provided information to ensure their safety—Wildlife Services did not provide the location of the devices or proper warning of the danger they posed to their family or pets.  The letters of warning from the Texas Department of Agriculture were sent well over a year after the federal trapper's negligence caused the death of the Walker's dog and put them in harm's way.

Predator Defense has supported the Walkers since the death of their dog and we are continuing to work with them to bring this case to the public's attention, as well as to the attention of lawmakers. We asked for a Congressional investigation of Wildlife Services and now the two U.S. Representatives we've been working with—Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and John Campbell (R-California)—have called for oversight hearings on Wildlife Services by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Wildlife Services is a federal agency that is out of control. We have hope that Bella's tragic death may serve as the catalyst needed to focus intensive congressional scrutiny on their inhumane lethal predator control program. Ideas for reforming the agency are explored in a May 6, 2012 Sacramento Bee article, "Suggestions in changing Wildlife Services range from new practices to outright bans."

If you want to help us stop the USDA's war on wildife in the most effective way possible, we cannot stress this enough: NOW IS THE TIME! A bill to ban wildlife poisons like M-44s has been introduced in Congress, H.R. 4214. Support the bill and donate today. Your donation is critical to keep pressure on and spread the word.

Bella's Story: Wildlife Services Kills Dog and Puts Family at High Risk

Beginning February 18, 2011 the Walker family's idyllic country home in Texas no longer felt like the haven they had believed it to be.

That day Predator Defense was contacted by Angel Walker and her husband J.D. about the poisoning of their beloved dog, Bella, by an M-44 sodium cyanide device placed by the USDA Wildlife Services just 918 feet from their house. The Walkers have two sons who could also have been harmed or killed by this device—one is a typical curious 11 year-old.

Predator Defense immediately sent the Walkers the EPA M-44 use directives for the use of these dangerous devices. We also asked them to photograph and document the placement of the M-44s, that killed Bella and other M-44s that were still loaded in the area, in proximity to their home and road ways. Violations of the directives include an M-44 that was placed on a roadway that the Walkers use daily. And at least four other M-44s were within plain sight of roadways—just 6 to 10 feet away.

Despite being notified of Bella’s death, Wildlife Services reset this device twice within the next two weeks. Mind you this is less than 1,000 feet from the Walker’s house which they share with their 11 and 18 year old sons.

Bella dead:  killed by an M-44

Bella dead, killed by an M-44
sodium cyanide device

Learning that the M-44s were being reset, Predator Defense went beyond advising the Walkers and contacted the Texas state director of Wildlife Services, Michael Bodenchuk.* After initially being told Mr. Bodenchuk was not available, Predator Defense Executive Director Brooks Fahy asked that a written message be delivered to him at which point he became available. He was dismissive about the case. Brooks let him know that it was not in Wildlife Services’ best interest to continue using M-44s in this location after the death of Bella.

The ramifications of Wildlife Services’ callus disregard for public safety was strongly conveyed to Mr. Bodenchuk. In no uncertain terms Brooks told them that Wildlife Services’ reckless behavior was being closely followed and documented by Predator Defense.

One hour after that phone call all M-44s in the immediate area had been removed, as were dead coyotes that had been hung along the fence line of the road that the Walker’s use to reach their home. We assume that the coyotes were initially placed there to intimidate the Walkers. Seeing these dead animals on the fence upset the Walker’s sons.

M-44 that killed Bella

The M-44 that killed Bella was
reset twice in the next two weeks.

A gray fox was also killed by one of the M-44s near the roadway and left there to decompose. This is another violation of Wildlife Services own protocol and directives. This species is typically not targeted for predation on cattle. The fox’s death, along with Bella’s, is an example of the indiscriminate nature of M-44s and how they kill any animal that pulls on them whether it is a beloved pet or an endangered species.

Under advisement of Predator Defense the Walkers contacted the appropriate state and federal agencies—The Texas Department of Agriculture, USDA Wildlife Services, and the EPA. M-44s are registered for use by Wildlife Services through the EPA. Now the USDA Wildlife Services and the Texas Department of Agriculture’s pesticide inspectors are investigating Bella’s death.

From the information we’ve gathered, including photos, it is obvious that Wildlife Services ignored EPA directives regarding the placement of M-44s and required warning signs. Wildlife Services used absolutely no common sense to avoid this tragedy from happening in the first place. Before Bella went missing the Walkers were not informed that M-44s were being placed near their home. This is not the exception but rather the rule when it comes to USDA Wildlife Services and their use of M-44s.

Coyote hung on road to Walker's house

Coyote hung along the fence line of
the road to the Walker's house

This case is yet another example of why we need an immediate ban on these deadly devices. Please contact your representatives and urge them to cut Wildlife Services funding for lethal predator control programs nationwide.

* NOTE: Michael Bodenchuk was State Director of Wildlife Services in Utah when another dog was killed by an illegally placed M-44 in 2006. See his despicable memo where he suggests that people might intentionally take their pets out to be poisoned so they could try to sue the government. This “us against them” mentality is typical of this agency.