Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Game Warden Files--and Still More Winter Leftovers

Going XC skiing with my wife and friends the other day reminded me of one of my more adventurous days of work--OK, you could call it play, but it was done for the sake of work. In all reality, this is hardly an exciting game warden story, but one example of how the job allowed me some experiences that I might not have otherwise had.
One of the local Forest Rangers who was into very high-level back country skiing was trying to find someone to ski down the W. Stony Creek--which is more like a small river than a creek-- with him. None of the other Rangers in the area were that into skiing and I was the only local ECO who was willing to give it a try, so I was his guy. We'd had a spell of very cold weather followed by some pretty good snowfall, and conditions were as good as they were going to get for the trek. He hunted me down and made the suggestion. It didn't take me long to agree on the plan.
We met the next morning, checking out all our gear and headed out, parking one vehicle at one end of our proposed journey (STHWY 30 and W. Stoney Creek) and heading off to our starting point, where Hatch Brook crosses Hamilton Co. Rt. 6. (Benson Rd).
This Ranger was a treat to ski with. He had some very high-tech equipment which made it simple for him to ski in almost any condition, he'd been skiing difficult terrain for years and had all the skills necessary to keep us both out of any trouble--which made me pretty happy. On the other hand, I was a fairly new skier, had halfway decent back country equipment, but was not nearly as skillful as he was. It made for an interesting day.
We skied through the woods from the road, along Hatch Brook and down to the W. Stony. The creek was gorgeous. The sun was just at the point in the ski where everything was bright and the ice and snow covered creek was quite a sight. I'll admit I had some second thoughts about it at that point; but the Ranger was confident in his skills and in my ability to make it up as I went along, so off we went.
We had generally good conditions all the way, but there were a few places that gave us some concerns. We had to get off the creek and go up on the bank around some open water once or twice and once the ice started to give way as we were on it, dropping right out from under the ranger's skis, forcing to make a wide arc to get away from the open spot; but all together it was an uneventful trip.We figured it to have been about a three miles ski, but it was not a normal ski route. We made it to our end point in about two hours, which wasn't bad considering all the obstacles we had to ski around on the way.
Yeah, it's not a really exciting story, but the glory of the Creation on that winter day is a memory I'll savor for years.

A Christian Nation (revisited)

If you go back far enough on this blog, you'll find a previous entry, provoked by a presidential statement. Some further thought on the matter--provoke by our adult Sunday School class nick-named "Bare Knuckle Bible"--probably ought to be added to that.
First, define Christian. We live in a day of nominal Christianity--in name only. There is no one set of practices or beliefs that is held by all who would call themselves Christian. It seems that if a person is not a member of any other religion and does not consider himself atheist or agnostic, he is by default a Christian.
The most truthful definition of the term must go to its first Biblical usage. In Acts 11 we find the first reference, it was in Antioch that the term was first used. It was the term which meant simply of Christ, and it was used to describe the church there--those who were actively following Christ and teaching what Christ had taught.
It can well be argued that our nation was settled to be a Christian community. The Puritans who came to Plymouth were unarguably Christian in the same sense as Antioch, and their intent was to live their lives as a Christian community. They came here seeking freedom from the Church of England. The writings of the time clearly reflect that. After that the nation retained a Christian flavor, in that the principles of the Bible continued to be evidenced in all of community life and in that churches were a normal part of the landscape with the majority of the population attending with some degree of regularity. By the time our nation came to be, our founding fathers were an interesting mix of sound Christians, Deists and others who held, at least least loosely, to God's Word. Their writing gave testimony to their belief that God's principles were the principles upon which they designed our nation's government.
Since that time however, our nation has drifted--or in my opinion fallen--away from those standards. Biblical principals are ignored and denied. Even our churches no longer teach Biblical principles, some having clergy that will outright deny the absolute truth of the Bible, the supremacy of God and other principles.
So, in short, I still say we are not a Christian nation. Not that I like it; but that's the way I see it. Start by examining who are truly Christians. That's enough to prove it without going any further.
The end of the matter is that all of us who are Christians, according to the original definition of the term, need to work to push (or lead) us back in the direction from which we came. We should start by living our lives the way Christ would have us live them, according to the pattern He set for us.  How's that for a New Year's resolution?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Game Warden Files--Another Winter Leftover

One of my favorite places was a trio of lakes in southern Hamilton County.  Murphy, Middle and Bennett Lakes are in the Town of Hope and easily accessed with a reasonable walk. There entire trail from Pumpkin Hollow Rd. in Wells to Creek Rd in Hope is about eight miles long. Murphy is just about in the middle with the others closer to the Creek Rd. trail head. Over the years, I've walked it in spring, summer and fall, snowmobled, snow-shoed and skied it in winter. Another officer and I even carried a canoe and paddled all three lakes in one day--that was a long, and exhausting day; but a good patrol. We even checked it by helicopter a few times. Truly one of my favorite spots.
One winter, shortly before Christmas, a car showed up at one of the trail heads, and stayed a while. It wasn't uncommon for a car to be parked there, folks camped in there all the time; but this time there was no sign in on the trail book and the car just stayed there. I walked into Bennett lake on show shoes and saw no one, talked to others who had skied through the area and still couldn't figure who was in there or where. After a week or so, one of the local deputies, the local Forest Ranger and I had discussed it and shared our concerns. We had run the plate number and found that the owner was from somewhere in the New York City area, we either couldn't find a phone number or continued to get no answer and so continued to be perplexed.
We were all starting to get worried that we had a body somewhere in the woods. When the car was still there a couple days after Christmas, we got started talking and were trying come up with a plan when all of a sudden someone showed up at the car.
The guy worked for a school system in the New York City area and had an extended winter vacation. He was something of an extreme outdoors-man, and had a high-tech sleeping system that was essentially a tent in a hammock. He'd gone back in the woods, rigged his system in a remote area and settled in. He was there through a couple snow storms, which had hidden any tracks, and had stayed through some pretty cold weather, but was settled in his tent with his books, a heater and a cook stove--happy as he could be. He never had a fire, so the one clue we might have had to his whereabouts wasn't there. That's how he spent his Christmas vacation. He had been well prepared and well provisioned, and never thought that his car, unaccounted for at a trail head, might cause the local law enforcement community some concern. He had never thought about signing in at the trail head log book, which is there for protection and safety of those who use the trails or of not leaving a note on his car letting anyone know about when he'd return.
He was technically in violation of the law, camping on the Forest Preserve more than three days without a permit and got a stern warning about that along with a good chewing out for the folly of his behavior--no one knew where he was, no contact information, that kind of thing; then we helped him dig his car out of the snowbank and sent him on his way.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Game Warden Files--Some Leftover Thoughts of Winter

Those who know me will know that I actually love the winter--not a fan of high winds and bitter cold; but 20 degrees with some snow on the ground and a clear sky is one of my favorite set of conditions to be in the woods. This morning, in preparation for some weekend plans I dug out the cross-country skis which provoked some conversation, and with that came some memories.
It was my first winter after moving back upstate that I learned to love snow shoes. I had some issues with a badly matched shoe and binding which cost me about a month of recovery time--probably too long on account of an over-protective doctor; but I got back on them before the end of winter and really learned to like them. The traditional shoes took me many miles into many of the environments in the lower Adirondacks and I loved the quiet "swish, swish, swish" made when walking in good rhythm under good conditions.  Over the years, I'd become quite friendly with the Havlick family http://www.havlicksnowshoe.com/ which made some hi-tech shoes and several times over the years Dick Havlick  handed me a set of a newly designed shoes and told me to go out and try to break them. I never did break a pair; but since I could put more abuse on a pair of shoes in a week than many recreational users could do in a lifetime, I did give them a workout. His shoes still serve me well today.
One of my favorite, though a bit self-deprecating, memories was the evening I was coming out of Whitehouse--a well-known place west of the hamlet of Wells, along side the west branch of the Sacandaga River. The track was a seldom used snowmobile trail that offered almost perfect conditions for the shoes. It was late winter and the temperature was just about perfect for a brisk walk on shoes. The sun was going down, the sky was clear and it was just a remarkable time. Going along, my mind was wandering to the point where the walking was thought free--you could say I was "in the zone," just putting one foot in front of the other. I don't know what happened; but suddenly I found myself face first in the soft snow along the trail... and still have no idea how it happened. There were many more falls on shoes over the years; but that's one time I'll admit to having been asleep on foot--it was quite a wake up!
One year, neighboring officer, Bob Gosson made it his mission to teach me how to cross-country ski. He wasn't talking about skiing on groomed trails, he was talking back country. My wife always found it humorous that he started my lessons on a road called Cemetery Hill. His efforts paid off and within a couple years my skis were taking me many places my shoes had formerly carried me--and the trips were faster. One of my favorite days was surprising a group of snowmobilers about 4 miles back in the woods.  They were pretty shocked at seeing me that deep in without a snowmobile and the one violation among them was so minor that the look on the operator's face was better than writing a ticket.
Another great day on skis was the opening day of trout season on Fawn Lake. Fawn lake is a small lake in Hamilton county with a heritage strain of trout and some special regulations to protect it. When trout season opens, the lake is still covered with ice and there's most often still snow on the snowmobile trails. Historically, it was tough to get in and check more than one group of fishermen before word spread. The fishermen all knew what our snowmobiles looked like, and they'd hear any machine coming down the trail long before it hit the ice and would be looking closely...but they never heard the skis. We got in and checked many groups of fishermen before anyone got the word out and evidence of violations disappeared.  It made for a productive day.            
Since I've retired, I haven't been on the skis even once. We've had the snowshoes out a few times, but the winters haven't been conducive to using either lately. Hoping that this winter will be a bit better this year.


I might be coining a term here, it would be nice to be the first to use a specific set of words and then have my lead followed; but it's the effect, not the verbiage that's important here.
From all media accounts, Cracker Barrel, one of my favorite restaurant chains, took a course of action based upon political correctness and then reversed itself because of the groundswell of opposition. My purpose is not to re-hash A&E's controversy over Phil Robertson's statements--they have to live with their response; but to look at what happened with Cracker Barrel.
For a number of years, we've been living in a world of political correctness. No one wants to be offended so the masses have avoided speaking up in order to avoid ever giving offence to anyone. This has brought us to a point at which anyone offended need only speak up and the rest have willingly silenced themselves. Enter Phil Robertson. He speaks his mind and his mind is firmly fixed on what the Bible has to say and what it says is often is terribly offensive to a certain segment of society. Then, a somewhat larger segment of society steps in and says "oh, we must not offend," and the majority silences itself.
This time, however, something decidedly different happened. The folks who patronize Cracker Barrel are NOT offended by what was said, and (I suspect) largely agree with the statement that was made! This time, those people reacted vocally and look what happened. Cracker Barrel reversed course! It did it quite quickly, I might add.
My hope is that more people, businesses and politicians will realize that they cannot be bullied into violating their beliefs and preferences based upon the beliefs and preferences of others, who may be a loud but vocal minority. This is not a new thing, rather a new manifestation of the concept of a silent majority. In this case, the silent majority has risen up and spoken. May it continue to do so. If that occurs, the Cracker Barrel Effect will be a reality. May it be so.

Please note that I am not taking Phil Roberson's side; but taking God's side.  Like Phil Robertson, I don't hate anyone; but also like Phil, I believe the Bible to be absolute in its statements. Those who chose to disregard it--whether vocal or silent--do so at their own peril.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mixed Emotions

First of all, I'm not a fan of Duck Dynasty--it's a bit too red-necky for me and my neck is pretty red. Though many of my friends love the show, the personas displayed in the commercials have been enough to keep me from ever watching it. I've watched a recording of Phil's preaching and though he was on point with what he had to say, it certainly wasn't a message I'd have gone a long way to hear. There are many other preachers I'd rather listen to. I've also been disturbed by the recent decision by these guys to get into a wine marketing deal. I'm not about to beat on the evils of alcohol; but if the goal is to follow and promote the cause of Christ, my opinion is that it would have been better to pass on that deal.
All that said, this latest mess about Phil being bounced from A&E is disturbing. It seems that that the network was pretty well aware of what the Robertson family was all about and what they believed and practiced regarding all the hot-button issues of the day. Therefor, what Phil said in his interview should have come as no surprise...and they pulled the plug on him.
The hue and cry about free speech is well intended, but misinformed. Free speech is something that we're granted by way of the Bill of Rights, not by a TV network. What may or may not be said on TV is a matter of contract, not of free speech. One might argue that it a matter of censorship, and there might be a bit of an argument there...though it's pretty slim as we're still talking private enterprise not government.
All in all, I hope the firestorm that has been ignited serves to bring the whole matter of what a popular man can say without getting the rug pulled out from under him into perspective. If Phil gets reinstated, good for him; if Duck Dynasty jumps to a different network, I wish them well...but I still don't plan to watch it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another Loss

The loss of yet another officer, a New York State Trooper, saddens all who share the profession. He died last night after being injured in an accident while doing his job.
Loss is tragic, and that is accentuated by the time of year and the fact that he left a wife and two young children. The loss is mitigated however to those of us who understand what this young trooper understood. For him, we can say Rest in Peace and be certain that he is at peace. One friend, a coworker of his, posted on her facebook page "I'll see that smile again!" Below is a quote from the facebook page of his church:

Trooper David Cunniff was a committed member of Grace Fellowship Church. He and his family regularly attended the Latham campus where Dave often applied his musical gifts in the worship band. As a church family, we’ve been blessed countlesstimes by his amazing talent on the guitar. Anyone who knew Dave personally could attest to his big heart, his ready laugh, and his unshakable commitment to his family.
Dave passed away today at 11:01am.
Our hearts ache for his wife Amy, the boys, and their extended families during this most difficult time. Dave’s life and his strength were an example to many. We will miss him deeply as we pray for God to comfort his loved ones.

I know this church, I know what it preaches: the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Christ's birth, death and resurrection will be given clearly at his funeral, and all police funerals are well attended. My his death bring this message to many.

Monday, December 16, 2013

He Came Not As...

Not as a teacher; though He taught as one with authority.
Not as a healer, yet healed in ways that astonished.
Not as a philanthropist; yet He fed thousands.
Not as an example of a perfect life although He lived his own without the stain of sin.
He came as none of those, but to seek and to save that which was lost. That was the reason.
He name was called Jesus, because He would save His people from their sin.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Game Warden Files--Acknowledgements

Were this a book, this would have gone in the beginning; but since this has grown from a couple random thoughts to many, many blog posts, it seems like this is time to do it.
The first person, and certainly the most important person has to be my wife, the love of my life, Peggy. She saw me through the transition from a truck driver who came home covered with feed dust, to a Village of Chatham police officer and State Park Patrol Officer to the point where I achieved something I'd wanted for many years: I became an ECO. Without her saying "go for it" and her constant encouragement that it was--or would be--worth it, it would have been all too easy to pack it in, or never to have begun the journey at all. She also helped me keep focused on the important things in life: faith and family. It would have been so easy, especially in the early days as an ECO when I was very caught up in the workload, to let that fall behind.
Next of course are our kids. Without really knowing it, they lived the adventure too. They saw me come and go at all hours, interacted with lots of colorful characters and got to experience some of my activities first-hand.
Kudos also to my parents. In our couple years in Brooklyn, they would drive down for the day and bring dinner--enough to keep us fed for days. In a day when our rent was more than a two week paycheck, that came in pretty handy! They also provided respite when we needed OUT OF THE CITY for a couple days. Even though we loved the excitement of the city, our friends, neighbors and church, sometimes we needed to "get outtahere," and they always welcomed us home.Their example (now at 70 years of marriage) of how to keep it going in all things was important for both of us, along with the work ethic instilled in me by watching them as I grew up.
My first captain, Dennis O'Reilly was a class act and I learned much from him. We had been friends before either of us entered the world of law enforcement, and were able to continue the friendship even as I worked for him. He put a lot of faith in me and went to bat for me when I needed it. He ended his career when he lost his battle with cancer--and his funeral was among the toughest I'd ever attended.
My first supervisor, mentioned occasionally in the posts, Jim (AKA Jay) Molinelli, was a wonderful guy. From him I learned the ability to separate the rank from the person. Even though we found times to disagree on the job, we always ended the disagreement and had coffee--and he always bought! It was the Jay Molinelli Seat of Your Pants Boat School that taught me how to run a boat and to navigate...and I always got safely back to port. Sadly, we lost him to cancer also, and that was another tough funeral.
I had several good supervisors through the years, and a couple clinkers, but one more stands out. Scott Florence was a rash young lieutenant when I met him, but he well understood how to handle older seasoned officers. I can honestly say that in spite of my years of seniority over  him, he made me a better officer--and we had some great fun working together. He's still climbing the ranks within the agency, and I wish him all the best.
A major force in my life early in my career was our pastor from our years on Staten Island, Bob DeRitter. He was as good a pastor as I've ever had, shared his life and family with us and really helped me to set the spiritual course of my life. Like Dennis and Jay, who also lived on Staten Island, we lost him to cancer also. We still have much contact with his family and cherish the memories. His funeral, though tough, was a true celebration of passing.
A few other clergymen have had impact on my spiritual life and need to be mentioned: Dr. Allen (Doug) Ferry) a long-time friend whose interest in my development has been a treasure to me; Frank Westcott, my pastor for many years and a master of humility and gentleness--he could teach classes in it; and my current pastors, Rick Klueg and George Hopper, two great men who encourage and build me up (along with the other men of the church) on a continual basis. All of these pastors share my love of Jesus Christ, are exemplary in the way they show that love to others and have shared many special times with me. Thankfully, I still have them with me.
It would be difficult to mention all of those within the job who contributed to my success, such as it was. It would likely be simpler to list those who served as an impediment; but that would serve no purpose at all. I'll end this by saying that the men and women of the Department of Environmental Conservation Police were, almost without exception the greatest law enforcement officers on earth. Many member of the Fulton County Sheriff's Office worked closely with me and together we handled many investigation and the men and women of the local NYS Police stationed in the area helped often as well. My thanks go to those folks also. A final note on a recent loss to the EnCon Police community. Tom Graham, only recently retired, lost a short battle with cancer also. Tommy, I still owe you a couple office duty days!

Game Warden Files--Swan Song

This may, or may not, be the last post I write relating to my career as an ECO; but I figured I'd get it down in print now anyway.
There was a guy we'll call Harry who had been a thorn in my side--and the sides of many others--on and off for years. He lived on a long dead end road in another county and was known as a neighborhood bully, a thief, a suspected marihuana grower and game violator to name of few of his vices--just not a nice guy to have for a neighbor. My first hostile interaction with him started with him calling in a complaint about someone killing a deer out of season over a food source that he had been keeping for them. (At the time feeding deer was allowed, now it is illegal.) He was accusing the logging crew working in the area and that didn't prove out at all.  The guy who ran the logging crew told me that if I ever caught one of his guys killing deer on a logging job, to just tell him and he would hurt him more than any ticket I could write; he was paying them good money to cut logs, not kill deer! That investigation ended with some very harsh words exchanged.
I was pretty sure that Harry had killed the deer himself, but was afraid someone else would notice the blood trail and call in a complaint. He was merely trying to throw off suspicion before we zeroed in on him...yeah, that worked out well. The more I knew about him, the more I knew we had to get him someday, for something, so he went into my sights.
Though I had many complaints about him; there was never enough information to make a solid charge against him, so I waited. A long-retired NY City Detective I'd known early in my police career had taught me that the way to get to someone was to do a thorough background investigation, so I started digging into his history. Not surprisingly, way in his past was a felony conviction. Clearly articulated in the court record was his acknowledgement that he could no longer possess firearms of any type. Interestingly, the judge directed that since he lived in the country, his wife could retain two firearms for household needs such as rabid animals.
It took years, but I finally caught him with a rifle, and since his wife had died some time before there was no excusing it. It was Veterans' Day of 2007 and Jeff Hovey and I were unloading a RHINO not far from Harry's house where we were headed into a piece of back country for the day. Harry pulled up to us in his pickup and there on the seat was a center fire rifle. I took the gun and we started a discussion about his right to own it. Rather than deal with it then and there, I just seized the gun and told him I'd be in touch. Then Jeff and I went on our patrol.
We were in something of a quandary now. I had his gun, but the possession had been in a county where the District Attorney had refused to deal with Harry on previous occasions and really didn't like my agency. As a matter of fact, he'd impaneled a grand jury to investigate us at least once (finding nothing, I might add). There was no way I wanted to take a criminal possession of a weapon case to criminal court in that county so I called a friend with the BATF to see if they'd like to do a federal case on Harry. It took from November 2007 until July 2008, but we finally had enough information that the US Attorney would be interested in pursuing the case.
At the end of July, a team of BATF agents, NY State Police and DEC officers went to his house. My agent friend knocked on the door and asked to talk. Smooth talker that he was, in minutes we had permission to search the house and property. At the end of the day, we'd found more guns, plus marihuana including some pot plants growing, and had a stack of federal and state charges on him. The top charges were possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm by a user of narcotics.
As we called clear of the scene, I was told to call the captain. He got on the phone and told me "GOOD JOB! Now, go out out and enjoy your last few weeks and let the young guys do the work." That would be my last case. During the third week of August, I turned in my credentials, my gear and my truck. I retired just as I'd wanted to: with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. I capped my career with several solid federal felonies and took a dangerous man off the street--at least for a while.

When Harry's case shook out, he took a plea and got 6 years of federal probation--and the feds keep pretty tight tabs on their probationers. About a year and a half later, one of my friends from the NY State Police pulled into my yard with a very serious look on his face. He began by telling me that Harry had been caught violating his probation. It was early spring and a local maple syrup producer had been finding chlorine in his sap buckets. For some reason, Harry was suspected and his probation officer came to call bringing the State Police with him, and finding a large quantity of chlorine. They also found more guns and more drugs. They arrested Harry on state charges, arraigned him and took him to jail; but he was bailed out before the end of the day. Shortly thereafter, he borrowed yet another gun from a neighbor. At this point in my friend's telling of the story, I began to think Harry might be coming after me--the guy who started his problems. My State Police friend continued with his story: Harry had bought a box of ammo at the hardware store, gone into the woods and neighbors had heard one shot...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thoughts on Ownership

We're not talking ownership as to who owns the car--you or the bank; who owns the house, you or the mortgage company...we're talking about ownership of a process or an organization.
What brought all this to mind this morning was recently noticing the lack of ownership within organizations when those within it don't recognize that its future and success is at least somewhat dependent on them, and their own future and success is at least somewhat dependent on the that of the organization.
A good friend runs a business. He's the third generation of his family to do so. Within the business is a sense of ownership. Everyone behaves as if the future of the organization depends on him. This has resulted in great cohesiveness within the company, longevity and prosperity among the workers, as well as growth and prosperity for the company and its owners. Along the way, the company has a very loyal base of customers who are well served by the team effort the organization displays, which is what makes the business flourish. Everyone wins!
My wife and I have a few favorite restaurants. Probably the most favorite is one in a very out of the way place in Maine. You really have to intend to eat there as it's not on the way to any place else. What we've observed there is that everyone seems to be always busy--even if it's doing little things. The one thing that really caught my attention was the man we recognize as the manager, or possibly the owner, was picking up the paper towels from the floor in the bath room as well as wiping down the mess around the sink (though not with the towels from the floor!) I've no doubt that his example is not lost on the others within the place, they all seem to be exceptionally helpful and hard working. The place thrives, having received some national recognition, though it's small and out of the way.
It would be nice to blame this problem and attitude on the "younger generation" but the more I look around, the more I see it happening at all levels. So, if you're reading this, please examine yourself. Are you an owner or an occupier? Do you make yourself a part of those things to which you are attached, or do you just hang on for the ride, doing the minimum amount necessary?
Take ownership folks. Help your employer, organization...whatever, thrive. Be part of its success not its mediocrity.

Game Warden Files--Reflections

Sinatra sang about having regrets too few to mention, and that's the way my career with DEC was. There were some mistakes made along the way, to be sure, but overall, it was a great career. Not many folks have had the variety of experiences that an ECO gets to have--and get paid to have them.
Seeing the sun rise on an open ocean or over a salt marsh, or watching it set with the same view is something that not all experience. Riding an open boat on the ocean in waves taller than the length of the boat is something that few have done; I got to do it with a boat operator so good that it was a fun ride, not a fearful one. Over the years that I navigated through fog thicker than the proverbial pea soup, arriving home safely.
The job took me deep into the Adirondacks in summer, winter, spring and fall. Though I used snowmobiles well enough, I preferred to make make treks on snowshoes or skis. My checking snowmobiles deep in the woods while on skis was an eye opener for the them to be sure! Of course, trekking open ground on snowshoes did cause some interesting moments when the ice on a beaver pond wouldn't support my weight; and it happened more than once when the trappers were really active; but I survived it.
I spent two nights with another ECO babysitting a dam on a remote lake in case some eco-terrorists decided to blow it up. We lit a fire and enjoyed our night...what else could we do?  Watching the sun set while hearing the call of loons and seeing it rise again while watching ospreys fishing the lake made for a pretty good time.
Over the course of they years, I got handled all manner of wildlife, both alive and dead, and had a hand in rehabilitating and releasing many game animals to the wild. Watching a golden eagle that was as good as dead only a few weeks before, but was now health and flying free was partly through my efforts, was pretty neat. We tracked her via telemetry until she molted somewhere in Labrador. Things like that add some significance to the job.
All that and more having happened, I also don't regret making the decision to put it behind me and retire. Though I still loved the law enforcement profession--particularly fish and wildlife enforcement, it was time to leave the demands of full-time work behind. I have chosen to to continue in the profession, now having two part-time police jobs and working a day or two a week instead of 50 or 60 hours. That keeps me pretty happy.
Regrets? Too few to mention.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 4

November was approaching with deer season and all the busyness that it brings; at the same time volunteers were needed to go back to New York for another rotation of duty. I took the first week of November to do my part and still be free for the work load of deer season. Our mission had been scaled back considerably and when I drew the midnight shift I was a one man show. My shift had half a night in the command post and half within the area of Ground Zero with some specific missions to be accomplished each night. At least we had a decent hotel downtown and I had a room on an upper floor far away from the noise of the daytime.
The biggest problem faced by that shift was a matter of the endless line of diesel trucks that queued up to be loaded with debris for transportation off-site. Truckers tend to be lazy and would rather leave their trucks running and the law allows only ten minutes unless the temperature is low. The idling trucks created one more level of noise and air pollution in already loud and foul environment. Our job was to stop keep the waiting trucks shut down unless they were moving. My first night in there there was no problem until I'd been there about an hour, then it started to become a problem. It was as though the drivers got lazier as the nights went on. This would be a no-win battle dealing with each trucker, so I chased down the union steward. I explained the problem and told him that either he could solve the problem, or I could--and the fine was a thousand dollars per truck per violation. Within minutes, drivers were walking toward their trucks and trucks were being shut down. Each night I made it a point to drive by the union steward's shack and we didn't have a problem for the rest of my tour.
Other than that, the rest of my tour was pretty much uneventful. The only other event was more humorous than anything else. My oldest son Bill was living in northern New Jersey at the time and offered to come over and take me out to lunch at a favorite BBQ place in mid-town Manhattan. He came over by ferry and met me at the hotel. As we walked uptown, all of a sudden there was an awful commotion brewing in front of us. Three women were engaged in something of a cat fight and it was getting uglier by the moment. Even though it was "not my job" to intervene in such things, I can't watch people get hurt. I handed Bill my coffee, identified myself as a police officer and waded into the fray. I pushed and threw bodies until they were separated. By that time, there was a sea of blue suits materializing from the crowd. I extricated myself from the tangle of arms, took my coffee back from Bill, and faded into the crowd.
Two days later, when my shift was over, I took a quick nap, packed my car and headed north. I have not been back to New York since. Someday, I'll go see the new monument, but I'm still not ready for it.

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 3

My first duty was to transport a captain, a friend from our academy days, from the office to the command center at Ground Zero. When we got to the parking area, he wanted me to walk into Ground Zero for a look. I just couldn't do it. I'd worked there years ago and now the landscape was all rubble, smoke and dust. I gave him a couple of disposable cameras I'd purchased and told them to send me copies of the pictures when he got them developed. I busied myself in helping move equipment of the temporary command center near Ground Zero up to an expanded one, on a pier on the Hudson River.
Only a person who traveled the road in and out of Ground Zero can appreciate what came to be known as THE CHEERLEADERS. This was a crowd of men and women who applauded and cheered for everyone who went in or out of the the place. The traffic going in was stop and go, and every time you stopped someone would offer you a pair of gloves, a bottle of water, a sandwich. It was everyday people, just doing something they could for those who were responding. It was heartfelt from them, and it was touching to the responders.
On my final trip uptown to the new command center, I stopped at a traffic light. I don't know why I stopped, it was about 2 AM, no one was on the road except other marked emergency vehicles. Out of the pool of light beneath a streetlamp stepped a woman, holding something out toward me. I rolled the window down and she said "My kids baked cookies, would you like some?" Here she was, all alone in a nearly deserted part of the city, and she was doing what she could...and her kids doing the same. That was about the most emotional part of the trip. (To this day, I cannot tell the "cookie story" without getting a lump in my throat and misty eyes--writing it was no easier.)
I was released early from my week's duty as I'd had pre-approved vacation leave. I was going to Guatemala, and into other Latin American nations on a mission trip with Peace Officers for Christ. As part of our ministry, we spoke in a large church in which I was asked to give a few words of testimony. I talked about the warrior mentality, of running toward danger instead of away from it; and I told the story of the firefighter who ran toward danger and entered into eternity...and then I told of his wife's faith and her statement to me. There were ten thousand people in that church that morning, and another ten thousand when I told it again a couple hours later. Both times, the congregation erupted in cheers. That young hero's story was told also broadcast on Radio and TV throughout all of Central America.

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 2

Our Firearms Instructor school ended the Friday after the attack on the the Trade Center. We were done by noon, and on the road to our respective homes very shortly thereafter. Within a half hour of leaving the academy, my lieutenant was on the phone with me; we had both been ordered to report to the staging are for the department's Ground Zero response by the next evening.
The next day I was southbound. My assignment for the week was to serve as a boat operator; but the boat I was to have been running had broken down and would not be back in service until later in the week--maybe. So, they reassigned me to communication and transportation as I still had some knowledge of the city from my years there.
We had our briefing Saturday evening and according to schedule I was supposed to go to work at 6:00 AM Sunday. Our residence was a hotel about 30 miles north of the DEC office in Queens. It was almost spooky to drive from there toward the city the next morning. There was no traffic, not a sign of an aircraft in the sky, the dominating thing in my vision, even at that distance, was the plume of smoke and dust still rising from Ground Zero.
When I reported for duty, I was told that my schedule had been changed and I wasn't due there until 4:00 PM. Rather than go back and spend time alone in a hotel, I decided to spend it with family. It was my my church family at Bethel Evangelical Free Church on Staten Island.
It was a bit early so the chains were still across the driveway when I arrived, so I parked and busied myself in paperwork. Before long, a car pulled up and the driver got out and removed the chains. She looked at me quizzically as I got out of my car, in my uniform. Though we hadn't lived there in years, we'd kept in touch with many folks there, visiting occasionally, so we weren't strangers to everyone. When she recognized me and I explained why I was there, she asked if I recalled a specific family in the church. Apparently they'd come after we'd left, so I did not know the name. She told me that the husband and dad of the family had been one of the first wave of firefighters to go into the building. His body had not yet been recovered.
As I mingled with old friends before church, someone brought the wife of that hero up to me and introduced her to me. It remains one of the few times in my life I was speechless. She looked at me and softly said "It's OK, you don't have to say anything, we know where he is." Her husband was a solid Christian and there was no doubt in her mind that she would be reunited with him.
After a great, though emotional, church service, I had lunch with friends and then headed to begin my work assignment.

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 1

We recall traumatic events in our lives in excruciating detail. Childhood injuries, our first heartbreaks, that kind of thing. I recall exactly where I was standing when the news of President Kennedy's assassination hit our school; when the news of the Challenger explosion went over the airwaves and when the news of the first airplane hitting the World Trade Center got to my ears.
It wasn't really surprising to me that a plane had hit one of the towers, there had been near-misses before. My first interview to become an Environmental Conservation Officer was in the conference room on the 61st floor of #2 World Trade Center. After being hired, trained and reporting for duty in that region I'd be there at least once ever week for the next several years. One evening when I'd stayed late to help the captain work on a project, a single engine light aircraft had been so close to our office that I could see the rivets in the fuselage...that's pretty close. So, when I heard the news of a plane hitting, I assumed that it was something of that order.
We were conducting a firearms instructor school at what was then our academy on the grounds of the State University of Oswego. Our training day was not going to start until 2:00 PM since we were going to do the night-fire portion of the course. I was in a lower hallway, talking to one of the maintenance staff when someone called her and told her about a plane hitting the Trade Center. I went upstairs to the lounge and saw the horrible sight on the TV, then the reality of the incident began to unfold. When the news came about the Pentagon, I recall saying "Gentlemen, we are at war." One by one, we drifted off to our rooms, donned our duty gear, drew our firearms from the armory and went back to the TV. We didn't know what was going to happen next; but we would be armed.
The entire campus was put on notice that it might be shut down by mid-afternoon and that we should get our meals and be ready to leave if necessary. We headed to the dining hall which we shared with the Freshman and Sophomore students. Normally, there was not much communication between the college students and the officers. It was the dichotomy of kids and old guys with guns. That day and the days following, it all changed. We were in the serving line and the kids freely intermingled with the old guys and their guns. One young lady nervously tucked herself between me and another officer. The grandfather in me made me ask if she was OK, and her answer remains with me. "I think we should send men no one admits we have to places nobody will admit we've been to do things that no one will admit having done." My kind of girl.
As the crowd filed out of the service line, another interesting thing happened. The students freely sat with us at the tables, like they had never done and engaged in some conversation with us. We had some good conversations in those uncertain days. Neither they nor we were home among our loved ones and I think they looked to us for a measure of protection and stability, and we looked to them for someone to protect. That filled needs in all of us. Their presence gave us someone else to think about, and ours gave them security--a fair trade, I believe. The closeness didn't last long; but the total dichotomy never returned, either.

Thoughts on the book of Romans--Paul Signs Off

About a year ago, when I had a series of preaching opportunities lined up, I started studying the book of Romans. A pastor friend offered some good research resources on the book, so I dug in and have spent nearly a year spending some serious time in it. It's been fun. Several sermons, quite a few Sunday School classes and a Bible study for a family have come from my time; finally, it was time to close the book and move on. As I meditated on Paul's closing remarks, I noticed that the pattern of writing had changed. Generally the writing was addressed to the church as individuals who would be reading or having the letter read to them; but in chapter 16 it changes to the church as a body. I focused on 16:17-19:
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. (NIV)
First I note that this is very important to him. He uses very strong language to urge them to comply with what he has to say in the next couple verses. It would not be a stretch to translate this as I'm begging you! Next is to watch out for and the NIV rendering if this might be a bit weak as the original language here can also be translated scrutinize, which implies a very close look indeed, not just a casual alertness. Following this, the word translated as divisions implies a wrongful separation, not one of propriety or necessity and the word which comes through as obstacles is the word from which we get scandal. (By the way, all this comes from a very simple, almost superficial look at the original language with only a few easily available study tools.)
The teachings you have learned can be summed up in what Paul had already written in that letter. He'd given them a short course in systematic theology in the pages they'd just read: Wrath, righteousness, sin, punishment, grace, redemption.... It had all been summed up in the previous 15 chapters including how all of that should play out in their everyday lives, umm, make that our everyday lives also.
In spite of their appearance, those people about whom Paul warned were serving only themselves, not the cause of Christ. They were deceiving unknowing people and Paul wanted his readers to not be taken in by them. All that is still ongoing today. In our churches we see these things that are killing the cause of Christ:
A primary problem is a corrupted clergy. Not long ago, Tufts University university did a survey of non-believing pastors who were still in the ministry; the very thought of that should be chilling to believers. That a survey could find enough such folks to participate suggests to me that those they studied represent the tip of the iceberg. Too many seminaries have dropped their standards, not holding to the absolutes of Scripture. The next result is a diluted doctrine. As a result of what's being taught the clergy, all has become relative. The purpose of Christ--if not the fact of Christ--has been lost. He came to seek and save the lost. Though He did many other things along the way, those were not the purpose for which he came and churches have turned that around. Churches may do good works; but they've forgotten the lost. Sadly, it appears that they are lost themselves.
This gives us losers for leaders. I'm aware of a church leader who has said that he "has no time for this God stuff," and that it's all about "butts in the seats and dollars in the plate." Such are those elected to leadership. Our churches now face a failing future. Look at them, many older folks, a few middle aged and a handful of young children with their parents--or generally with their mothers, as Dad can't be bothered.
Paul warned in the text that they deceive the minds of naive people. As the church leaders ceased believing and teaching the Word of God and it's absolute authority, the level of Biblical knowledge has declined to the point where it is nearly unknown. This would be sad enough, but we have been warned! Paul warned us here; Peter wrote of similar things as did Jude. Why don't we get it?
All this makes it critically important to know our Bibles, be active in our churches and scrutinize those coming in the doors to join our ranks for it is those who will become or leaders. It's interesting that Paul's letter to the Romans first dealt with the individuals, and then with the collective body. We need to have our personal theology right in order to have our church's theology right.  

Game Warden Files--the Sweethearts.

That wasn't their name, but since the name was related to love, romance and all that stuff, that's what we'll call them. Mr. Sweetheart was fishing from a big rock along the shoreline in one of the private campgrounds that dot the shoreline of the Great Sacandaga Lake when fellow ECO Jim Harnish and I happened by on our boat and stopped to check him out. Mrs. Sweetheart was sitting on the rock with him reading a book.
We first asked if was having any luck and got the standard "not yet" as an answer. The next question was if we could see his license, and we got another standard answer: "It's in the car." He went off to get it, leaving his rather pregnant bride sitting on the rock. She chatted pleasantly with us as he walked off to get his license. It's not normal to let someone walk away, but since we were in a boat and not able to easily beach it and his wife stayed behind, we didn't think he'd run; but as the conversation dragged on, and even Mrs. Sweetheart was looking rather anxious about things, I beached the boat and we got out. We were about to have her take us to their campsite when Mr. Sweetheart came down the hill, explaining that he couldn't find it.
This was in a day before there was any interstate violator agreement for fish and wildlife offenses so the only choices we had were to let him go with a warning or take him right to a judge for an immediate arraignment. We could have easily enough given him a warning and gone about our business--it would have been far simpler for us; but he started to give us a bit of a bad time. We already knew his name and date of birth as his wife had given us that; but when we asked for some identification he said he had nothing and he refused to give us his address, just telling us he was from New Jersey and didn't give a town. We finally got Pennsylvania Avenue out of him; but he still wouldn't go for a town. The more we asked, the worse he got. Finally it got the point where Jim and I didn't even need to discuss it. Out came the cuffs and into the boat he went. The wife, who had stayed pretty silent all during our conversation with him, started crying (understandably), then gave us the rest of the information and asked if her husband was going to jail. We told her that it would be up to the judge and that she could meet us and follow us to the court. The easiest meeting point for her to find was the State Police barracks, so we had her meet us there. We wrapped Mr. Sweetheart up in a life jacket, pushed the boat back into the water and headed for the dock for our cars.
While we were out on the water about ten minutes or so when all of a sudden Mr. Sweetheart's demeanor changed totally. He looked at us and said "I was a real a$$!ole, wasn't I?" We really had to agree with him on that.
We met his bride at the State Police barracks. She was inside on a bench crying. The trooper who just happened to be at the barracks told us that she'd walked in crying saying something about two guys in green uniforms in a boat had taken her husband away and he figured he'd just stay around until we showed up.
We met the local judge at court and he figured out pretty quickly that there had been an attitude problem behind the whole thing, so he really made the guy squirm in cuffs for a while while he discussed the options: a $250 fine or 15 days in jail. In the end, Mr. Sweetheart plead guilty and the judge imposed a reasonable penalty.
If this guy had only given us a couple straight answers in the first place, we could have seen our way clear to let him off with a warning. After all, he was spending a weekend away with his wife before their baby came. Somehow, I doubt that the rest of the week was the pleasant time they'd had planned.

Game Warden Files--Hangouts

Every ECO needs a hangout. When we moved to Brooklyn in the first years of my career I was befriended by the owner of a place called Frank's Sport Center (or something like that). My first visit to the store was on some business about selling hunting and fishing licenses and we quickly developed a good relationship. Not long after that first meeting he invited me to be present at an open house he was holding, and told me to be sure to bring the family. It was a good time, we became friends and I stopped by there often, meeting some of the greatest sportsmen I'd had ever met, or ever did meet. They were not the "city hunters" that all upstate sportsmen dread; but real classy guys who knew what they were doing and did it right. It became a favorite hangout for me. We stayed in touch for a while after I departed the city for "upstate;" but eventually we lost touch. I believe the store is long-gone now, or operates under a different name as I can't find it listed anywhere.
When the transfer to Fulton County came, my neighboring officer quickly introduced to another Frank. This one operated Frank's Gun Shop, and it soon became my favorite hangout--both on and off-duty--which some referred to as my "East End Office." A lot of rainy, snowy and other miserable days were spent in that shop talking with sportsmen. Most times, the conversations were just lively banter; occasionally I'd get some valuable background information on the area and some of the suspected violators; and sometimes I'd get enough information to make a case--once without ever leaving the store.
I was in Frank's off-duty when a highly irate fisherman came in. He'd been ice fishing on Lake Pleasant, about 40 miles north of us and he'd seen a couple guys taking fish in violation of either size or take limit, hide them in their car and continue fishing. As he drove south toward home he got more and more angry about it and when he came in the store he was about to explode. He had come inside just to blow off steam, starting with something like "Where's a Game Warden when you need one?" After identifying myself, I got the whole story and called the dispatcher. She got the officer for that area on the radio and found that he was within a mile or so of the violation. He located the suspects' vehicle, found a good vantage point and nabbed them...all within a couple minutes of my first conversation with the fisherman, with whom I still talking when Dispatch called me back to say that the violators had been arrested and ticketed. Sometimes things really do work out.
I became very good friends with Frank and his family, and remain so to this day. Their gun shop is still a frequent hang out for me. I did play a prank on them once that was so well played they never did find me out until I revealed that I was the culprit. Frank and his wife had some wire-framed lighted deer on their front lawn for Christmas ornaments. One year, one of the deer just would not stay upright; every couple days it would fall over in the wind and they'd have to reset it. One afternoon I found an old hunting arrow in my garage and tossed it in the back of my own pickup. After stopping at the store to make sure they were both there, I pulled in the driveway at their house, stuck the arrow into the downed deer and took off--totally unnoticed.
A couple days later, when I walked in the store, Frank couldn't wait to tell me what they'd found a couple days before at their home. Every so often the "drive by arrowing" would come up in conversation, and we'd laugh about it...all the while they didn't know. That's probably the only good gag I ever got away with.
Good friends, great times, grand memories!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Another Year and no Deer

It's a good thing that success for a true sportsman does not mean harvesting game--though that's not a bad thing either--it's the act of the hunt. So this year was a good year. I got in three days of hunting, all of them good days, and that's more than I've often had; there's just so little time.
One of my days was a cold, crystal clear morning after a night of with a bit of snow. There was just a hint of light snow filtering down through the trees--more like dew freezing as daylight came on. My hunting partner referred to it as "movie snow" because it was more like a special effect than an act of nature. The setting was a mixed hardwood and conifer forest filled with the sign of game. That was worth getting up at 5 AM and dressing in layers upon layers to see. Yeah, the game sign was about all we saw; though I did briefly see about 5 does, 200 yards out and running full-tilt through heavy cover--not a decent shot to be made.
My thanks to my friend who takes great pleasure in getting me out to have fun at his hunting camp or aboard his boat--he makes me have fun! Years ago some aging friends advised my wife and me to make young friends to help keep us young. This is one such friend.
My other days were with one of my dearest friends. We met in high school, became instant friends and I can't recall single cross words ever spoken between us. He was best-man in our wedding and I was given the great privilege of performing his daughter's wedding--that's a special friend.
Hunting with him is a treat--nothing but the executive class hunt! He owns a pretty good chunk of land and manages it well to produce quality deer hunting with enough decent bucks to make a pretty good trophy or two. There are also plenty of antlerless deer which need to be thinned out every year. He has stands dotting his land and the one I've hunted from with him are pure class--cot, chairs, cook stove. I've harvested a couple deer there over the years, each within 2 hours of daylight; but this year it was not to be. Two mornings of watching the trails from his top-of-the-line stand (breakfast cooked in the stand) and we saw NOTHING! We also put in some time on the ground and still nothing. If we'd brought .22 rifles we could have each shot a limit of squirrels, but that was it.
Hunting with him is always a treat. This year it was something of bittersweet as he's in a battle for his life, and had to bargain with his doctors to have deer season free. Next week he begins the next round in his battle and will spend weeks, if not months in semi-isolation. My two days with him, in spite of seeing only one deer--another high speed, too far for a shot sightings--was priceless. We spent one lunch time watching some videos of our younger days--oh, the fun, the only electronics were the ham radio sets! It was a part of the day's hunt.
So it was a good season. My best sporting experiences have really been far more about time with nature and with friends than about putting meat in the freezer of a trophy on the wall. I've seen the sun come up and shadows flee from a high valley while I listened to the turkeys I was pursuing flying in the wrong direction; seen a buck so close I could have jabbed him with the muzzle of the shotgun, and had many other great times; but it was more about the friends and the experience, not the game. Many thanks to all my friends!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Game Warden Files--Sort of...

This story transcends many years of my profession, two vastly different locations and two agencies of employment.
One afternoon when I worked Chatham PD, probably sometime in 1980 or 1981, I had a call to return to my station to assist some people. The call had come from the local telephone operator. In those "good old days" a person needing help from police, fire or the local rescue squad would find a pay phone, dial zero and the local operator would make the proper connections. It wasn't 911, but it worked out pretty well in small towns.
Parked in front of our station--the Tracy Memorial Hall--was a dilapidated old pickup truck with ramshackle living space built on the back; you couldn't call it a camper by any means. On the steps to the Tracy building was a family, a dad, a mom and a couple kids.  Putting the truck and family together was easy to do--they looked like something out of the Grapes of Wrath--disheveled, tattered clothing, unkempt appearance and a tired look in all their faces. They told me that they were travelling through the area and were about out of gas, food, money and luck. It was easy enough to believe. I had them wait in the lobby and got on the phone to the local social service worker; surely she could help, she'd always been able to help folks like this before. As I started my story, the worker interrupted me and asked if it was a family in a pickup truck and described them to me. When I told her that it was the same group, she informed me that this bunch had used up every freebie the county had to offer and had overstayed their welcome in a few private situations as well. They had even worn out the patience of local restaurateur who would gladly feed about anyone, and only asked they do a little yard work for him, which they'd not done. Armed with that information, I told this family that we had no help for them and that they'd have to move on.
Fast-forward to 1982, May 24th to be exact. I was just over a year into my job as an ECO and was assigned to Region 2, New York City. May 24th was my office duty day and I was in working on the 61st floor of #2 World Trade Center and seeing a very busy city beneath me. It was the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge and there was quite the celebration. The captain suggested that I have my wife bring the kids into the city for the afternoon and join a group of other state employees in the tower to watch the fireworks display that night.  It was a great idea! Peggy and the kids found their way in on the bus system and when I finished my office day, we hit the streets for a bite to eat. As we wandered the area below the bridge in the vicinity of the South Street Seaport, we were in something of a carnival atmosphere with street vendors of all kinds plying their wares. Suddenly I stopped short--on the sidewalk was a family of beggars and a sign "Please help a homeless, needy family." You've can guess who it was, the same group I'd dealt with in Chatham only a few years before.
There are plenty of ways to put a moral on this story, and plenty of object lessons to be taken from it. Probably the most transparent of them is the lesson from the words of Jesus:  The poor you will always have with you. This was a textbook example of that.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Game Warden Files--It Weighs WHAT?

It was opening day of the regular North Zone season and Bob Gosson and I were checking hunters on the west side of the hamlet of Wells. We got to the area called Whitehouse, a trailhead on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail and found a group of guys camped on the flat near the West Branch of the Sacandaga River. As we walked toward them, Bob asked if they'd had any luck and one of them piped up that they'd killed a two hundred and fifty pound bear.
For anyone who has never dragged a bear, you must understand that they don't drag easily. It's like dragging a bag of bowling balls, wrapped in Velco across the opposite surface of the Velcro--and going uphill.  It's really that bad. We often have said that a bear doubles in weight for every couple hundred yards they are dragged to get them out of the woods.
After being told about the bear I looked in the direction the lucky hunter had pointed and saw a bear--but nowhere near a two hundred and fifty pound bear. I made some comment about it being "maybe a hundred and forty pounds," and that started a rumbling to the effect of those "Game Wardens don't know nothing about bears." We checked the bear tag and then the entire party, verifying tags, licenses and all the things we would normally do, all the while hearing comments about our lack of knowledge about bears.
When the time came for us to go we had to again walk right past the bear. Just as we were next to it, there was one more disparaging remark about our knowledge of bears. The timing was perfect. I turned, picked the bear up, turned toward them and shook carcass as though weighing it in my hands. I dropped it back where it had been and just waved them off with "Nahhh, a hundred and forty pounds, tops." There was dead silence as we walked away.
Bob and I got in our car and shut the door before we lost it and broke down into laughter. The hunting party was still standing looking at us. If that bear weighed two hundred fifty pounds, I should have been in a Mr. Universe competition, not checking hunting licenses.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Game Warden Files--Just Keep the Mouth Shut

It seems like some folks don't know when to quit. If you're caught and you're wrong, just apologize and leave--doesn't that make sense? To some it does not, apparently
One nice fall morning, a local landowner was working on his property when he saw three men hunting. He knew two of them, brothers who lived in the area and the third man was a stranger to him. When confronted with being on posted property, two of the men apologized, the third, one of the brothers, had to make a rather unpleasant argument out of it and now the landowner understandably wanted him arrested.
Though the landowner knew the brothers, he didn't know where they lived. The apologetic brother, however worked for a local excavating contractor and had been driving a company truck when they'd been hunting. The owner of the company was a long-time friend, so I called him and got the man's phone number. When I got him on the phone, he quickly agreed to meet me at the Sheriff's Office to talk about the incident and gave me a full statement of the event which agreed with the landowner's story almost exactly. He also told me where to find Brother #2, and revealed that the Brother #2 was on probation and not supposed to have any guns. Even worse, Brother #2 had guns that were really family owned guns, having belonged their deceased father. I thanked him for his statement and told him he needed to talk to his boss about using the company truck to violate the game laws. Then I was off to see Brother #2.
Though I've always been a strong supporter of the right to bear arms, it's never bothered me to take guns away from criminals and this time was no exception. However I'd known the father who had owned these guns and if they'd been seized they may have ended up being destroyed; that bothered me. Brother #1 hadn't done anything to deserve losing his right to them; but I had no right to tell him how to get around the law. However, I didn't have to rush to write Brother #2 his tickets. Since I had all the information I needed, I took the time to write the tickets out before going over to Brother #2's house. As I drove down the road, I saw Brother #1's truck going the other way and was happy to know that he'd figured this out on his own. Brother #2 met me in his front lawn, hands outstretched for the tickets. He told me that he no longer had the guns...that was all I needed to hear; case closed. He plead out and paid his fines.
A few days after this took place I got a call from Brother #2's probation officer. He had reported the incident to her as required and she wanted to know my take on it. She too was a Second Amendment Supporter and was happy that the guns had been removed and not subject to seizure. She also thought that maybe her probationer had learned a valuable lesson about keeping his mouth shut--something she'd identified as a problem he had. If he'd just apologized and left, he'd have never had to meet me that day.

Game Warden Files--Confession Time

Conversations around the table yesterday (Thanksgiving) brought up a name that provoked a set of memories dating back to 1986, our first year in the area. It was the last name of a guy I'll call Joe, a good sportsman who helped me out and could have made a great story out of it...but never told a soul, that I know of.
The game warden is supposed to be the expert on everything relating to fish and wildlife: "Is the ice safe on Grafton Lake in November?"  How should I know. "Do you know what the weather is in Lake Lila? I didn't know where Lake Lila was. "How deep should you fish for salmon in Lake Ontario?" Not a clue but we muddle through, usually coming up with an answer that satisfied the asker. Though we keep up a good facade, we sometimes get our weak spots found out. So it was that early in my first deer season, a major lack in my knowledge was brought to light. I had stopped a car to check what I thought was an improperly tagged deer and found Joe, who was headed for a phone to call me (hard to believe that we had no cell phones only a few years back). The deer was legally tagged and all was in order; but this guy was hot. His hunting party had been putting on a drive when there had been shots fired in an area where they had no watchers. They went over to check out who the interloper was and found a set of tracks that led up to a small button buck--an illegal kill.. The footprints leading away from the deer were a clear message of "feet don't fail me now!" The shooter had run away. Bad enough to make an illegal kill; but to leave it in the woods to be eaten by the coyotes was unforgivable.
This sportsman turned around and took me back to the parking area and then led me up through the woods about a mile to the spot where the deer had been killed. The tracks told the story as described. Not willing to leave the deer to the coyotes, I rolled it over, took out my knife and told my sportsman that he was in for a treat...I'd never field dressed a deer before, and he'd get to watch. Though I had been a fairly successful small game hunter over the ears I had never taken a deer myself, so this would be my first. Confession given, my hunter did the right thing. He sat down on a stump and talked me through it. It went pretty well with his expert coaching...and he never told the story to embarrass me, though several would have gladly paid to hear it.
Though I developed a suspect or two on the illegal kill, there was never enough evidence to make a case against anyone. It was, however, part of my growing up in the job and I appreciated Joe's help. I dressed out many deer in the years since then, some my own takes and many more killed illegally; but that one always comes to mind when I take out my knife.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Game Warden Files--Off to buy a Wolf

There has always been a fascination with exotic pets. Folks go to all kinds of lengths to have things that no one else has--legal or not. For a while the hot item was wolves. New York's regulations prohibited the possession of wolves and hybrid wolf-dogs.

Hamilton County ECO Bob Gosson contacted me one day and asked if I'd be interested in going under cover to buy a wolf puppy. A family had just moved to his area and had started advertising wolf puppies for sale. He came up with a scheme to get me in and buy a puppy. We borrowed a body wire and recording unit from the State Police to record the transaction. We also borrowed a female Trooper to pose as my wife. We made an appointment to view the dogs and put the plan in motion.

On the appointed morning, I picked the Trooper up in my personal car then met Bob to get fitted with the body wire. Bob took his personal pickup down the dead end road by the suspect's house with the recording unit and we headed in for the buy, or to at least document the possession of prohibited animals. The Trooper and I had figured out a pretty good story line by the time we got there and we played the parts pretty well. The purveyors of wolf puppies went out of their way to tell us all about the blood lines of their dogs telling us "wolf, wold, wolf" repeatedly. Over and over the wife, who was obviously the primary actor in this wolf factory, kept apologizing for the condition of the kennel, telling us that they weren't "set up" yet.  She must have said it a half-dozen times. When the Trooper and I had left and were headed back to her station, we both started laughing over the the repeated "set up" comments. We both had thought the same thing--she had no idea how well she was getting set up.

After listening to the tape and writing our statements we figured out all the charges. A couple nights later, Bob and I went back to issue the tickets. The woman kept looking at me strangely and finally asked if we'd met somewhere before. Well, yes...we had met before, right there in her driveway as a matter of fact. When realization dawned, she started to laugh. We issued the tickets and parted amicably.

Game Warden Files--Cat Tracks

One of the big controversies in New York has been the presence of mountain lions. Are they here or not? Interestingly, the state seems to have gone from "there are none here" to "there is no population," believing that there are some individual cats--either released cats or escaped animals--but no breeding population, something that seems to disappoint no one.

Over my years there were plenty of calls about them. Most often they were calls about "black panthers" which were pretty easily dismissed, usually a little conversation proved them out as fishers, a large member of the weasel family that has cat-like moves. Pretty easy mistake to make, except that there are no black panthers in the north country, period. The only black panthers truly identified are not even cougars, from what I can find.  

Some of the sightings were less certain; but most likely bobcats. Most of the "big cat track" calls I handled were those. There were some, however that weren't so clear and might have been cougars. Some young folks out cross country skiing came across a set of tracks that they'd photographed. The track was fresh and alongside a measurable human footprint; it was pretty big, outside the range of bobcat tracks. One report came from a well known sportsman. His visual description was too good to discount, he knew all the likely other suspects and by process of elimination this was a cougar. One lady invited me to her house to discuss what she'd seen and spent more time qualifying herself and her powers of observation than she did telling me what she'd seen...yeah, that was probably a cougar also. 

The funniest was a guy who stopped me on the street in the village of Northville, flagging me down from his car as we crossed paths. "YOU GOT A GUN?" He almost hollered at me. Well, yes, two or three of them actually, and how might I help him. He told me he'd just seen "A BIG CAT" walking along the bank of Northville's "little lake." 

We both parked at the town hall and he seemed disappointed that I didn't offer him a shotgun or something. I explained that whatever he'd seen, unless it posed a threat to us or the public--spoiled his fun. It was perfect day for tracking, there'd been about an inch or so of damp snow that made a perfect track, so I took a camera to document whatever we found. I had him take me to the spot he'd seen that big cat. Of course I kept a good watch out in case of a cat attack and broke into laughter when we got to the spot of his sighting. There, perfect as can be was a set of kitty cat tracks...and nothing else. My would-be hero was very silent as we walked back to the parking lot. He mumbled a sort of apology, got in his car and left me to my laughter.

For more on panthers, check out http://a-z-animals.com/animals/panther/
It's pretty good.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Game Warden Files--Joe the Sniper

The story came to me from a local gun shop I frequent both on and off duty. They asked if I knew a guy who was doing some training for the State Police Mobile Response Team that day. Not recognizing the guy's name, I had the proprietor continue with the story. This guy had come in the store, talking like he was some special operator working for a well-known military contractor in Iraq. He had told stories about "shooting 'objects'" at extended ranges and showed them a highly customized rifle in a fitted case that had all the accouterments--including a silencer. Under NY state law, silencers are illegal for the general public and under federal law they are highly restricted and taxed. He also had what had appeared to be an official looking identification card linking him to that contractor.

My next stop was the State Police Barracks where I asked who this might be, that whole thought of a silencer bothering me still. I talked to a local trooper who was on the MRT and he didn't have a clue--and he should have known. Now I was on the track of guy who might just be a nut-case.

The matter went cold for a couple weeks as the guy had just gone out of view for a while, but I'd made some quiet inquiries and was not liking the stories I'd been getting. This guy was making himself out to be some kind of military war hero, super-sniper and something of a special government hit man. Red flags were going up everywhere, so I kept looking. A couple weeks later, I went into the gun shop on a day off and the owner told me that Sniper Joe had just been in to pick up a case of ammo and was headed off to a local range to do some shooting with the State Police.

Since there was personal business I had to attend to, neighboring officer Larry Johnson picked up the trail for me and went to the range along with a local Trooper. They were about to leave when Sniper Joe showed up and started a conversation. Larry kept the conversation going and ultimately got into the gun case finding not unexpectedly, a silencer, along with an official ID identifying him as an employee of a well-known federal contractor.

By that time, my business had been completed and I busied myself finding out just who the guy was. A friend of mine is in the security business, and had the phone number for the contractor on speed dial, so I called and checked him out. Turns out that he was a heavy equipment operator and had no reason to be in possession of his equipment even when he had been in Iraq, which had been some time before. Interestingly, when I asked if they might be missing a silencer, they didn't really want to continue that line of questions. Hmm.

Interestingly, Sniper Joe had a couple silencers legally registered to him in Texas, where he could lawfully possess them. He also had an application in with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to acquire another one. The one he had here was none of them.

In the end, we charged him under state law, and let the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms follow up on the rest of it. They executed a search warrant on his home the next day, but found nothing--too late, no doubt. We'll always believe that the word had gotten out and his friends got whatever other illegal devices he might have had stashed.

I always suspected that he and one of his buddies with whom I was familiar had other illegal items; but they never came to light on that, and are either well hidden or long gone.

Game Warden Files--All in the Family

Every officer's sector has a problem family or two...well, maybe even three or four. One of mine got some stories told in some previous posts; but there is another that deserves at least one story.

It was only my second or third season as an "upstate game warden" and some folks seemed to think that they were immune from the law. This family owned quite a bit of land and probably did--and may still--get away with a lot of violations. One day I ran into a fellow sitting on watch not far from a logging road. I stopped to check him out and found that he was one of *that* family. He checked out OK, and told me that his grandson was working his way up the hill from the house, trying to push some deer up to him. Now, I knew that the grandson was under 16, the legal age to hunt deer, and was curious just how and where he'd show up. I found him a few minutes later at his grandfather's pickup, trying to distance himself from the gun that I'd already seen in his hands.

He was 14 or 15, and had a small game license and so he could hunt small game, but not deer or bear; if accompanied by an older licensed hunter. Though he'd been a good distance away from his grandfather, I could stretch the accompanied part of the situation and let that slide; but I wanted a better look at the gun he'd been carrying. If he'd been hunting small game, I would have expected to find a .22 rimfire or a shotgun with bird shot.  What he'd been carrying, however had been a .30 rifle. His grandfather argued with me that the boy had been carrying a shotgun, so I showed him the gun...and decided to go right to the judge.

I really wasn't convinced that Grampa knew what the kid was doing--the kid has since had a long history of run-ins with the law--so I opted to do a civil compromise with the kid. I sold Grampa on the idea, and he forked over the money for the civil penalty.

There was a private road that ran through that family's property which I had often used to access a couple camps that were on other private property in the area. The very next time I came out of that road, a family member greeted me with a pretty hefty attitude and told me that I was not welcomed to use their road any more--EVER! Shortly thereafter, a gate went up. I saw the judge from that case a few weeks later. He had seen one of the family members and asked where was some property for sale up his way. He said he'd heard that I was about to close on a piece of land near him and wondered just where it might be....

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Game Warden Files--Stacked up Like Cordwood

We all have lots of pictures in our mind but not many real pictures of the events of our careers. There are dozens I wish I had but one stands out. It was my patrol car, a Dodge sedan, with so many deer tied on the truck deck that the bumper was dragging.

It all started with a young guy calling to tell me that a party of other hunters had stolen a nice deer from him. He gave me a pretty good statement about it, identifying who the others were and where they'd gone, but the problem remained about who really killed the deer. Common decency says that the hunter who drew first blood "owns" the deer. If another hunter finishes it off and the first one comes upon it, it's the property of the first hunter. The law, however isn't really specific and I couldn't do much to help him...until he started telling me all he knew about this hunting party.

I got in touch with Larry Johnson, in whose territory the events were occurring and we started in on the case. Before the sun had set we had seized three deer, though we knew there were more to be found. All were antlerless and taken in an area where deer management permits were not allowed, so it was bucks only. At least one was untagged entirely and memory fails me to as to all the violations involved. We wrote all the tickets we could for the moment and had to call it a night. As the night had fallen, the temperature had also dropped.  We had gotten pretty badly chilled so we decided to regroup in the morning. On the way home I figured I'd get rid of the deer. I made a call to the church that did the sportsmen's dinners and made arrangements to drop them off. I also had an acquaintance who was down on his luck and could use a little winter meat. I backed into his driveway and unloaded the deer on top of the pile. Between rigor mortise and the frigid temperature the legs of the deer were locked out straight and it stood up in the driveway. Though tempted to just drive off, I knocked on his back door and told him I needed to see him outside. When he saw the deer standing in his back yard he had a good hard laugh.

The next morning, Larry and I met and attempted to chase down the rest of the deer. By then, we'd figured out where they had been, but were too late. The building was virtually sterile. It had been either pressure washed or steam-cleaned and the floor was still wet. We were able to make one additional arrest out of this, but never got the guys we really wanted.

We never did find the buck that our complainant had lost. We figured that it, and any other deer we'd been looking for had been bulldozed underground during the night. Though we didn't make all the arrests we wanted, we're pretty sure that several guys had a very sleepless night. Sometimes we had to settle for that.

Game Warden Files--The North and the South

For the purposed of big game hunting New York is divided into to main divisions, North Zone and South Zone. The North Zone season opens in October, the South in November. In Fulton County the line is easily distinguished as it runs down State Highway 29 from one end of the county to the other. The Adirondack Park boundary runs just a few miles north of the road through much of the county so the line divides the county into two distinct environments. To the north, the land is more heavily wooded and hilly, to the south it's somewhat flatter and more of it is open farm land. For the real hunters, it tend to mean a difference in the methods of hunting; to the violators, it hardly matters. Road hunters don't really care.

Bob Gosson was coming down from Hamilton County to work a complaint where a nice buck had been shot from a pickup truck on the road. The deer had been in a cornfield in the South Zone and only North was open. The pickup had been driven into the field, two men got out, threw the deer in the back of the truck and took off. We ran all the leads down to dead ends for that night and called it quits. Like many cases, those who saw the most, were not willing to put their names on statements and we were afraid we'd lost this one.

Bob wasn't available the next day when Trooper Rich Bittner called with some information that he'd picked up about the case, so I went with the Trooper to interview another suspect. Though this guy wouldn't involve himself in shooting it, he admitted that he'd been there when the other two had dragged the deer into the woods on a back road in the North Zone. He wouldn't put his name on a statement; but he gave us the names of the two men involved and the fact that they had tagged it as though it had been taken in the North Zone. He also knew that it was already at a local butcher shop. While we were there talking to him, we noticed that he had a pile of guns in the corner of his home--more on that later.

Many hours later I caught up with the man I'd thought to be the passenger of the truck, but not the shooter. He told me that yes, he and the other guy had killed a nice buck, but it was in the North Zone--he'd even take me into the woods and show me the gut pile. After verbally sparring for quite some time, I told him I'd already seen the gut pile and had tissue samples to send out along with the samples from cornfield. It was just a matter of time before the DNA match came back. I also told him that when he was found guilty, he'd have to pay the state for the cost of the tests. This was a time when the DNA evidence was just starting to take hold and though it was doable, it was costly and took a very long time to get results. Fortunately for the good guys, the perception from the TV shows made it look like it was an overnight thing; so he was eager to get it over with.  He admitted that he'd shot the deer and said he'd take full responsibility for it, but wouldn't give me a written statement or mention the other guy in the truck.

He wanted to go to court and settle it right then. Since it was court night in that town anyway, I had the Sheriff's Office call the judge and ask him to come in a bit early to take care of this guy. We were in, settled, payed up and out the door before the normal court activity began. I then went to the butcher who had his deer. Since it had been illegally killed, it was property of the state. I told the butcher that the deer would be donated to a church that held a big sportsmen's dinner and he cut the deer up for me; after all, he'd already been payed.

In the interest of tying up lose ends, I would often run the names of all involved through the Sheriff's Office in-house records.  If I found any old cases on them, I'd see if there had been a conviction that prohibited owning a gun. I found an old case on our witness and Trooper Bittner and I went back to pay him another visit. We charged him with criminal possession of a weapon 4th degree, as we did many, and sent him to court over that.  If memory serves correctly, he got a court release for the old offense and got his guns back.

Game Warden Files--Get the Aluminum Foil!

The caller sounded rational, intelligent and truly concerned about an ongoing problem. I really didn't want to go out that night but it sounded like a complaint too good to pass up. She'd heard gunshots and could see lights in the woods near her house. Since she was only a few minutes from our house, I jumped in the car and headed over.

The house was hard to find, its driveway virtually concealed from the road behind some buildings on a construction company's storage area. The location of the house was atop a hill giving a view that would have been stunning in daylight--but it was dark, raining, very windy, and visibility was poor. By the time I arrived at the door I was already re-thinking my decision to come out. Between the low visibility and the howling winds, everything she had told me was starting to look fanciful at best. When the door opened, I was met by the person who had sounded so rational, intelligent and sincere. The person was nothing like the voice! Disheveled, unkempt, and wacky would be the way to describe this lady and her house was in total disarray. She took me to her windows where I could see nothing close, only distant lights which she tried to tell me were the hunters in the woods nearby.  No, they were some distance away--miles in fact, and quite stationary. Then she started telling me about the helicopters landing around her house all the time--and nobody would do anything about it. Hmm, imagine that.

The more of the house I saw, the more eager I was to get out of there. She had foil on some of the windows and other contraptions about which I was afraid to ask. I managed to extricate myself from our conversation with the promise that I would surely investigate the matter, got back to my car and down the hill before she found a way to come after me.

I stopped at the Sheriff's Office on the way home and asked if they knew her. They had been to her home on numerous occasions for a variety of odd complaints. They were happy she'd decided to call the game warden for once instead of them. So glad to be of service--NOT!

Game Warden Files--Oh, Deer!

One thing ECOs encounter all too frequently is well-meaning but ignorant people who want to help what they deem to be animals in distress. Though sometimes it works out OK, more often than not it causes more problems than it fixes and often there is no problem except the person's ignorance. That's often the case with young deer that are rescued because "it was abandoned by its mother." Many calls of that nature came my way and in all but one, I got the fawn back to the spot of "rescue" and miraculously it was gone shortly; the other time there was a doe found dead on the road nearby. That fawn was taken by a rehabilitator and ultimately released.

The biggest problem is that the cute little fawn, if it survives untrained intervention, becomes a not-so-cute adolescent. When they become problems they're often released and become problems in the neighborhood. One June morning a Trooper and I had to deal with one of these.

The Trooper got the call from his dispatcher and was quite relieved when I called him on the radio a moment or so later to tell him I'd meet him at the complaint. We arrived to find a young doe--the previous year's fawn--making itself at home with a family. She would come right up to one particular family member and suck on his clothing!  It was humorous, but dangerous.  This is the result of imprinting; the deer thinks it's among it is among its own kind. Besides the injury it could unintentionally cause to people, it could also just walk up to the first hunter it saw and be killed--so much for the kindness shown by the rescuers.

The Trooper and I conferred and for lack of a better idea called our friend who owned the animal farm mentioned in other posts. He ran a legit business, kept his animals in good order and was always in good standing with our permit office. He arrived within about an hour towing the trailer. His idea was that the Trooper would hold a bucket grain while I grabbed a front leg and he grabbed a back leg. If we could get it into the trailer, he'd take it and pen it until we figured out what we were doing with it. There was really no plan B for this operation

When he opened the trailer, the doe took all our problems away from us. She walked over to the open door, peered in, then climbed in and helped herself to the grain. We closed the doors and I told the farm owner I'd see him later that day. This was absolutely the most easily solved wildlife problem I ever handled.

When I stopped at the farm, I found the doe in a box stall, contentedly munching hay from the manger, just like she'd done it all her life--she probably had.  Since we had no other viable options, I made a call to our licensing folks the next day and they amended the animal farm's permit to include one new white tail deer. After having been checked by a vet and suitably quarantined she became part of the farm's display.  Like the tiger, she became a lesson in how not to handle wildlife.

Game Warden Files--Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

There were always bears. Sometimes illegally killed, sometimes nuisance, sometimes both; but never a year went by without having some involvement with them. I've been close enough to smell their bad breath and had the slack coming out of the trigger of my shotgun when one defensive momma-bear was charging a State Trooper--fortunately for her, she stopped in time. I've chased them around camprounds, out of dumpsters and made arrests for the illegal taking...yeah, lots of bear stories.

I had two lion dealings, one with a cub in a pen who loved to get his forehead scratched. I obliged him and as I was drawing my hand out he bit me--very gently--and just sort of dragged his teeth off my fingers. He didn't draw blood, but just wanted to remind me who was boss. He belonged to a local animal farm, and may be still there to this day.

The other lion was actually a mountain lion. He belonged to a guy who had a scientific collector's license and so could lawfully possess it and display it for educational purposes. However, he just didn't follow the rules about how he had to keep it and what he could do with it. He'd take it out on a leash in public places--considering that an educational display--and just became a pain in the neck. We'd get complaints every month or so about it and one time got one report in which he was so out of line I finally had something on which to take an action.

I cited him for violating the terms and conditions of his permit and offered him a civil compromise--a cheap one--with the condition that he would abide by the department's understanding of the terms of his permit instead of his own. If I'd had to take it to trial, it would have meant getting a very reluctant witness into court so I was happy that he took the offer and settled up. After a while, the novelty of having the big cat wore off and word got to me that he parted with his cougar. I was not unhappy about that.

And then there was the tiger.  My lieutenant called me to tell me that a local guy had taken a tiger to a local vet to have it de-clawed and to get its shots. The only problem was that he had no permit from the department to have a tiger. We documented the possession and then went to have a chat with the owner of the young tiger cub.

This fellow had built quite an elaborate housing facility for it, was keeping it in a reasonably fit manner; and claimed to have had some training (watching educational TV about keeping big cats) but it was flat out illegal for him to have it. It was easy to see why he'd had the cat de-clawed. On a rack near his door was a pair of Carhart coveralls shredded!  I guess kitty played hard!

We did an in-place seizure, wrote him a ticket and dug in to prepare for trial. After many court appearances he took a plea agreement and forfeited the cat. The day we picked it up I managed to get my arm a bit too close and got some scratches to show for my effort--she used my arm for a teething ring!   The tiger ended up at the same animal farm where I'd met the lion some time before. The owner always told the story and gave a good lesson about the incident when he gave tours of his farm.