Layne Spence weeps inside his Cottonwood Street home, recounting the moment last weekend when a hunter shot and killed his 2-year-old malamute Little Dave. It’s a scene he continually replays in his head. “I can’t sleep,” Spence says. “I mean, my dog’s right there and his back leg gets blown off, and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs.”

On Nov. 17, around 1 p.m., Spence took his three malamutes cross-country skiing near the Lee Creek Campground six miles shy of Lolo Pass. The dogs were excited and—because it’s hunting season—Spence says they were all wearing lights on their collars just bigger than silver dollars.

Spence remembers Little Dave in front of him, with Rex, 3, and Frank, 1, also within eyesight. He heard a soft “tat,” a sound he likens to a shot fired from a semiautomatic weapon. That’s when he says Little Dave’s leg got hit. More shots followed. When Spence spotted the hunter roughly 15 yards away, he says the man was shouldering his weapon.

“I thought it was a wolf,” Spence recalls the hunter saying. Spence replied, “Do you know what a wolf looks like?” While telling the story, Spence produces a picture of Little Dave—70 pounds, red, brown and white in color. “You can tell me if you think Little Dave looks like a wolf,” he says.

Spence’s entire life revolves around his malamutes, as any local who has seen the group walking downtown can attest. “My dogs are my family,” he says. But he’s found little solace in official reaction to his loss. After the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office informed him that legal recourse would prove difficult, Spence contacted an attorney.

Sheriff’s Captain Brad Giffin says that in order for the department to file criminal charges, it would require evidence of gross negligence or criminal intent, of which they have neither. “It’s a cloudy issue,” Giffin acknowledges.

One allegation buried in Spence’s account may give law enforcement additional traction. Spence believes he saw a sound suppressor or silencer on the hunter’s weapon. Hunting with a silencer is illegal in the state, a matter that would fall under the jurisdiction of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Spence could still pursue a civil suit if the hunter is found. But he’s not interested in money. He just wants hunters to behave responsibly.

“I’d give everything I own to have my dog back,” Spence says.

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