Most days, Billy — a sweet, rescued mutt — would lie peacefully and protectively on the floor beside the 3-month-old son of his Santa Barbara owner.
That part of the daily routine has become no more, since the medium-sized, 45-pound dog was shot and killed earlier this month by hunters who told authorities they mistook the unleashed terrier for a wild dog on the Santa Cruz Trail in Los Padres National Forest.
Billy’s owner, 32-year-old Ian Malloch, shared his story as a cautionary tale for others who use the trail so they’re not also stunned and crushed by such a tragic outcome.
“It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever gone through,” Malloch said. “I was definitely emotional. I loved that dog. Everybody loved him. I think most people would see it as a shock.”
The incident unfolded on the morning of Jan. 15. Malloch jogged up a trail while his two dogs — Billy and Macaroni, a 65-pound German wire-haired pointer — ran a short distance ahead of him.
When the dogs went out of view around a bend near the Nineteen Oaks area, Malloch heard barking, followed by a male voice yelling “Yo!” and then a gunshot.
Malloch turned the corner and found that Billy had been shot in the head with a rifle by a hunter who believed he had “no other choice” because potential “wild dogs” were charging him, according to a report filed with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
The two young hunters from the Los Angeles area, both weighing more than 200 pounds each, were out for pig season with legal gun permits and hunting licenses, the report said.
Authorities declined to press charges because their actions were legal, said Andrew Madsen, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
“It’s just so tragic and unfortunate,” said Madsen, a fellow dog owner and self-proclaimed canine lover. “There wasn’t any negligence. Unfortunately, sometimes these things happen.
“Dogs should be on a leash. It’s an opportunity to share that safety message.”
Malloch told Noozhawk that he knows the shooting was legal, but he doesn’t understand why the hunters could find no other way to deal with a dog that clearly was wearing a collar.
“I just think their actions weren’t justified,” he said. “They said it was a large dog, and they attacked these guys. You kind of need to see what the dog looked like. It’s just sad.”
After Malloch carried his bleeding, dying dog the couple of miles down the trail, animal control arrived to take the small body to the Santa Barbara County Humane Society to be cremated.
Now, the ashes of Billy, who was part of Malloch’s family of three since he was rescued in 2007, are buried among the hills he used to love running through.
“There’s nothing we can do to bring him back,” said Malloch, who estimated Billy was 7 or 8 years old. “People need to know that people are back there with guns, just to be careful when you’re back there with your kids or dogs. Be aware that people are allowed to hunt back there year-round. It is sad that it ended the way it did.
“He was always the first one in my bed to cuddle with me,” Malloch continued, clearly upset. “We used to joke that he was a Mongolian mountain terrier because he loved running around the mountains. He was a friendly dog.”