Gary Knapp of Hurricane probably never fancied himself as a statesmen and negotiator helping craft public policy. However, the president of the West Virginia Bear Hunters became all of that and more in the past three months.
This week the Kanawha County Commission okayed an amended dog tethering ordinance. The original law was of high concern to Gary and the hunters he represents.
"The part we couldn’t live with said the dog couldn’t be tied up or tethered outside unless the person responsible for the dog was with them at all times and it couldn’t be left out longer than 15-minutes and you could only do that four-times a day," said Knapp.
Knapp knew early on this would be an uphill fight. However, over the course of time, both sides seemed to ease the tension with rational discussions, factual information, and a discovery of common ground. The most critical link was that everybody in the discussion had an interest in seeing that no dog is ever mistreated.
Knapp, and the Bear Hunters Association Attorney Shawn Romano, convinced county animal control officials to check their records and discovered there had been few, if any cases of abuse involving hunting dogs. Furthermore, Knapp says a little education went a long way.
"I explained to them what a good dog cost," said Knapp. "A good coon dog will cost $2500 and a good bear dog will cost $5,000 to $20,000. You just don’t have those kinds of investments and not take care of them."
Knapp says he was pleasantly surprised that those who touted the originally stringent tethering law were willing to be open-minded and understand his position. Knapp says the relationship with Sylvia Shaffer, a board member of the Kanawha County Humane Association, was really an eye-opener.
"After meeting her I think I made a new friend," said Knapp. "She’s not as far left as what we thought a lot of those people were. A lot of her ideas were similar to mines. I think she realized that not all hunters are bad and I now realize that not everybody who’s interested in protecting animals is bad either."
The changes to the original law exempt bonafide hunting dogs from the ordinance. However, there will be a close monitoring of enforcement and county leaders say if there is a trend of hunting dog abuse, the matter will be revisited. The rules specifically state the owner of a "bonafide" hunting dog must have a valid hunting license and must sign a legally binding affidavit that the dog has been hunted in the last year.
Knapp shies from praise for his work, much of which happened in the middle of the 2009 bear hunting season. He says he had a lot of help, much of it from other dog hunting organizations in the state.
Knapp is certain without the allowed changes, hunting with dogs in
"I think everybody realizes, really because I’m president of the Bear Hunters Association, that I’m just as interested in a rabbit dog in