Rescue Group Offers Reward: Was 'Lucky 500' The Dog Part of Cruel Hunting Game?

No one knows how the incredibly thin, tiny beagle mix with sad, deep brown eyes picked up by a Greene County, Tennessee animal control officer about two weeks ago ended up as a stray. But now some tough New York City tattooed biker types are flexing their muscle down South to unravel the mystery.

Why is there such a stir about this stray? She certainly stuck out in the county animal control holding facility. You see, it’s not everyday a dog comes in with two giant number 500’s perfectly imprinted on each side of her body. When word about the strangely numbered dog got out to local animal rescue groups she was transferred to the no-kill Greenville-Greene County Humane Society. That’s where shelter manager, Amy Bowman says, their vet discovered the numbers were “freeze branded” onto the dog. “We’ve never seen this, only heard of this, but it is a common practice all over the United States, especially with fox hunters. We don’t like the freeze branding, but its not illegal. I would like for it to be.”

Experts say freeze branding giant numbers on a dog is a practice some hunters use to identify their dogs during a hunt. First the dog’s hair is shaved from the area that will be branded. Then a branding iron is “frozen”, usually by cooling it in a combination of dry ice and 99% alcohol or in liquid nitrogen. The ice cold iron is then applied to the dog’s skin. At first the branded area turns red and puffy. After the swelling goes down the dog’s skin flakes off and in a few weeks the brand will begin to appear. The goal is to kill the hair follicles so the hair grows back in as one color. Other hunters sometimes paint or bleach numbers on their dogs.

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The freeze branded beagle mix, now called “Lucky 500” by animal rescue volunteers, is currently in a foster home where she’s resting, kicking a case of worms and putting on weight.

So while the dog waits for her forever home, cue the mean looking animal activist Harley riding dudes. Why are they in this story? They’re acting on a tip that former hunting dog Lucky 500 was soon to become the hunted. The 35 pound pooch was allegedly to be used in a game where people would actually try to shoot her and get “500 points” or $500 for hitting the target. Apparently the dog, who is around five to seven years old, was considered too old to hunt and may not be as useful in the field.

You may be thinking, “Huh, motorcyclist animal vigilantes?” But the crew from “Rescue Ink” would tell you they always work within the means of the law, they just turn up the heat a bit. The “ink” part of the group’s name marks the myriad of tattoos that outline their giant sized muscles. They look like they’re straight out of street wise, biker gang central casting, who just happen to have quite a soft spot for animals. Founding member Joe Panz says, “We go wherever we’re needed. We back up all the animal rescue groups all over the world.”

So when Panz got the call about Lucky 500 they had people on the ground in Tennessee immediately last week. People who from the looks of them, you would probably not want to see show up at your door asking questions.

Panz, from the streets of Queens, has actually been shot five times and has bullet holes in his body to prove it. The rest of his posse includes other reformed street savvy tough guys who claim they’re no angels, but they’re in this for the animals. They’ve got names like: Big Ant, Johnny O., Alleycat and Jimmy the Bull. Hollywood could not have written it any better. When someone calls for help, they answer. You start to picture a giant Batman emblem flashing in the sky, but for this group a picture of a dog and a Harley motorcycle would get them riding off to their next animal investigation faster than jumping in the Batmobile.

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But their investigation into Lucky 500 in Northeastern Tennessee has hit a road block, the kind reminiscent of what police in the Boston area call the “Charlestown Code of Silence”. People are clamming up. Panz’s crew was even threatened. (He wants to make it clear, they were not intimidated.) So now instead of flexing their muscles some more, they’re going to flex some cold, hard cash. The group is offering a $2,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest in this alleged dog hunting game. They’d also like to chat with the person who freeze branded Lucky 500. Panz gets the feeling something is going on because, “We started to hit a brick wall. There were people who would not go on the record and started to keep quiet. We’ve got tips, but everyone said the same thing but they were afraid to put their name on it.”

When Rescue Ink posted information about Lucky 500 and the reward on its Facebook page this week it launched a firestorm of comments. There’s outraged opinions from Facebookers who think the practice of freeze branding is cruel and hunters who think the group should pack up, go home and quit making an issue out of it.

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The group is NOT knocking hunters who obey the law and treat their dogs well. Panz says he’s talked to plenty of sportsmen who’s dogs sleep in bed with them, and are fed, cared for and tended to like they live in a five star resort.

But Panz hopes the hoopla over this once stray little beagle can help start to educate not so responsible hunters. “While we have all this attention on Lucky 500 let’s try to make a difference here.” Some of the issues Rescue Ink would like to see addressed while animal lovers and hunters duke it out virtually on Facebook. (Leave us a comment on our Facebook and let us know what you think!)

  • If there’s a dog that’s too old to hunt, don’t put it down, (and certainly don’t use it in a hunting game) try adopting it out.
  • Instead of freeze branding a dog, why not use numbered vests?

While Rescue Ink continues to investigate what really happened to Lucky 500 Panz has hope. Hope that the beagle will soon get a forever home and hope that, “This little dog might save so many animals and might be the bridge to make the compromise between the hunting world and the animal rescue world.”

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