Kaylene Johnson: Writer and Photojournalist

Our Perfect Wild

An unlikely couple—a wild boy and a good girl—Ray and Barbara Bane, both teachers, set off from the sooty landscape of West Virginia into the snowy panoramas of Alaska. There they make another unlikely commitment: to learn the Old Ways of the land they come to adopt—and defend. With her characteristic poise and bravery, distinguished Alaskan journalist Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan chronicles the Banes’ story of environmental gumption in the wilderness.

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--Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 and Paradise, Piece By Piece.

A Tender Distance
Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska

Not a Toy: Death of Family Dog Demonstrates Dangers of Pellet Guns

February 28th, 2012 by

He was the pick of the litter. A strong, beautiful pup, Denali had all the features of a fine, pedigreed Labrador retriever. Better even than his physical qualities, was his personality – intelligent, loyal, and affectionate.  He was a surprise birthday gift from Jen Tanner to her husband, Jesse Tanner shortly after they were married. The Tanners, of Wasilla, bonded immediately with Denali.  As a couple, they invested their best efforts in his upbringing, including puppy training, veterinary care, and lots of consistent, loving interaction with their high-energy dog. The result was a well-behaved, cherished companion who added immeasurably to their lives.

Three weeks ago, someone with a pellet or air gun shot Denali dead. He was just four years old.

The details are unclear, since no one has come forward or witnessed the shooting. Jen said that the veterinarian who performed the necropsy sees it all the time. Animals that have been shot with pellet or air guns are vulnerable to life-threatening infections, even when their injuries appear to be minor.

“The wound itself can look innocuous, but the (pellets) can definitely cause severe damage especially if it lodges in the abdomen or chest cavity,” said Dr. Lorelei Cuthbert of Ravenwood Veterinary clinic in Eagle River.

Today’s pellet and air guns come in models with power equivalent to a high-powered rifle.

“There are pellet guns made today that are powerful enough to kill a buffalo,” said Jim Kedrowski, owner of Arctic Fox Taxidermy in Wasilla. “People don’t realize how powerful they are.” He is quick to point out these guns – even the lighter caliber models – are not toys.

The guns are not just a danger to pets. A study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that more than 30,000 people are treated in emergency rooms each year because of pellet gun injuries. Of those, 81 percent are children or teenagers. The majority of these are males ages 10-14 years.

Denali was killed with was a .177 pellet, one that coincides with a number of higher powered pellet or air guns. According the website of Airgundepot.com, .177 caliber air rifles can reach velocities of up to 1250 FPS (feet per second). Denali was likely shot in his yard, where he was restrained by an electronic perimeter fence. Tanners didn’t notice the small puncture wound to his abdomen. One evening, he just grew terribly ill. When Jen and Jesse realized Denali was in big trouble, they loaded him into the back seat of the car and Jen rushed him to the vet. He died on the way. The vet believes the pellet was in his body for several days before the infection became apparent. By then it was too late.

An estimated 3.2 million nonpowder guns are sold in the United States each year with muzzle velocities from 350 FPS to 1350 FPS. Despite the large number of BB and pellet gun-related injuries treated in emergency rooms each year, there are no nationally specified safety standards for nonpowder guns.

The Tanners are not opposed to guns or hunting. But they are still stunned that their beloved Denali is gone.

“He was that one in a million dog,” Jen said. “We had so many people who wanted one of his pups. He was perfect.”

The Tanner’s 15-month-old daughter liked to crawl all over Denali, who patiently bore her toddler affections.  Jesse and Jen can’t help but think that if a pellet gun can kill a dog, what about a child? Their concern has merit. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that at least four children every year die from a popular holiday gift – the BB gun.

The Tanners don’t know who shot Denali or why. But they, along with other responsible gun owners like Jim Kedrowski, and veterinarians across Eagle River and the Valley, urge parents to teach their children about the dangers of these guns and provide direct supervision in their use. Every gun user should be educated about the importance of gun-safety practices and how to safely handle a firearm. When not in use, all guns in the home should be kept locked up and unloaded.

Meanwhile, there’s a big hole in the Tanner household – a place where a good and faithful dog once resided.

“I miss him every day,” Jesse said.




2 responses to “Not a Toy: Death of Family Dog Demonstrates Dangers of Pellet Guns”

  1. Dawn says:

    This just happened to our beloved Shelby… We didn’t realize she had been shot with a pellet gun until it was too late… She started limping and we thought she injured herself jumping off the couch or something.. Took her to the vet where he X-rayed her leg and found nothing, thought it was a soft tissue wound… Within 4 days Of that onset, she died. About 3.5 weeks prior to that, our neighbor ( which I had only met 2 times in the 2 years since he moved in) had people and kids over.. We live on 10 acres.. Our dogs were out going potty, I heard them shooting, I glanced out my back patio and saw Shelby running around the back of the house with her tail between her legs, I ran to the front door to let her in and she was gone..it took me 2 hrs to find her, she had ran about 2.5 miles away to a stand of trees… Shelby never ever ran away… I brought her home, gave her a warm bath, and tucked her in her blankie.. Looking back now, I should of looked for a puncture wound… Which will haunt me till I die. She was a German Shorthaired pointer and we loved her dearly. So when I read your blog, my heart went out to you.

  2. My vet stayed my dog for diagnosis of high globular protein….the xray shows a pellet in his side which probably there for years. Could that be cause of his problems with Globular protein level?

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  • About Kaylene

    Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is a long-time Alaskan who makes her home in Palmer. She has found adventure on Denali, the Chugach Mountains, and as a wrangler and cook in the Brooks Range. Her award-winning articles have appeared in Alaska magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Louisville Review and other publications. Her books include Our Perfect Wild: Ray and Barbara Bane's Journeys and the Fate of the Far North; Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith; A Tender Distance: Adventures Raising My Sons in Alaska; Trails Across Time: History of An Alaska Mountain Corridor; and Portrait of the Alaska Railroad.

    She holds a BA from Vermont College and an MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.