Greenwich Time (Sunday)

Hunter put target on own back

- JOHN BREUNIG John Breunig is editorial page editor of the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time.;­g.

I’m sitting here checking prices for coyote pelts on eBay.

Because that’s apparently a thing some people do.

I won’t be able to stomach this for long, so bear with me. A colleague told me he couldn’t even read the story of the hunter who shot, beheaded and skinned two German shepherds in Ridgefield, claiming a case of mistaken identity. Hunter Michael Konschak brought the corpses of Cimo and Lieben to taxidermis­ts, saying the remains were coyotes.

But I’m trapped on the detail that anyone could still be doing home decorating with trophies of any animal. Hunting for sellers on eBay only makes them seem more pathetic. “$32.95 or best offer” … “Lot of 6, yes 6, tanned full body XL coyote pelt skin fur hide real beautiful. $182.49” … “Authentic large wild coyote head face pelt. Real taxidermy tanned skin and fur. $4.13.”

Four dollars and 13 cents for a coyote head (plus $3.99 in shipping costs).

I wouldn’t blame you for turning the page. I may join you. Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than pelts on eBay is what turns up when surfing the web for similar cases in which hunters killed pets thinking they were coyotes. One involved a 95-pound Alaskan Shepherd killed by a hunter in New Jersey. Coyotes are about onethird that size.

On Wednesday morning, I sent a note to a former colleague, Nicole Rivard, about whether she had ever run into a case as disturbing as the Ridgefield one in her work at Darien-based Friends for Animals. She happened to be protesting at the Danbury courthouse with the agency’s president, Priscilla Feral. Konschak was there for his first court appearance, almost four months after he killed Cimo and Lieben. Rivard asked Feral the same question.

Both responded with the answer I needed to hear. No one should be able to conjure an animal incident worse than this. The details of Konschak’s alleged actions in the arrest warrant sound more like warm-up exercises

for a serial killer than a hobby.

The dogs’ disappeara­nce was still a mystery in December, when Feral happened to write an op-ed in defense of coyotes. It might still be unsolved but for a heroic taxidermis­t (a union of words Google suggests has only one previous marriage). After being told his trophies were dogs, Konschak skinned the animals himself, but told investigat­ors the results were “unsatisfac­tory.” So he is as bad at flaying as he is at hunting. Still, according to the warrant, he tried another taxidermis­t who rejected him before Konschak hid the evidence in at least four different places. I say “at least” because the heads have still not been recovered.

Feral’s op-ed explored how the reputation of coyotes has been damned by laws that essentiall­y invite hunters to shoot on sight.

“Coyotes serve an important role in keeping prey population­s, such as rodents, in check and local ecosystems healthy,” Feral wrote. “The more people complain about the mere sight of a coyote, the more state wildlife agencies will react — all too often with a shootfirst mentality.

There’s no hunting season for coyotes because it’s almost always hunting season for coyotes. Feral feels this has “trashed the reputation of the animal” and would like the laws to change. The Ridgefield incident has only fueled her motivation to put a stop to shooting coyotes

“like it’s a video game.”

Feral is known as an unflinchin­g advocate for animal rights. More than once in our conversati­on Friday, she insists “I am not sentimenta­l.” The night before, Rivard told me that in 10 years she has only see Feral come to tears three times (the second time didn’t even involve animals, but trees being removed outside their Darien office in 2021). The third time was in the courtroom on Wednesday.

“Much of what really gets drilled into my brain after so many years is this violent imagery,” Feral says. “I can hear about things and read about them and certainly feel very emotional about it, but witnessing it visually is another whole layer of grief. What I didn’t do was look at photograph­s of the remains of the dogs that the hunter himself took. I mean, how bizarre does this get?”

Still, Rivard and Feral acknowledg­ed Konschak was almost persuasive with the statement he read in the courtroom. Any sympathy they might have felt evaporated when Danbury State’s Attorney David R. Applegate filled the narrative full of holes like he was using buckshot. Feral calls Konschak’s story “psychobabb­le.”

Among the most farcical of contradict­ions is Konschak’s effort to show remorse by explaining that he has since taken a safe hunting course while having “no interest in hunting again.” If he genuinely wanted to take responsibi­lity, he should not have applied for accelerate­d

rehabilita­tion, which would have wiped his record clean. AR is essentiall­y a “get out of jail free” card for good people who do something dumb. It might even have been appropriat­e if he came clean after killing the dogs with his bow and arrows. But his well of dumb doesn’t seem to have a bottom.

If there’s a positive angle to this saga, it is in the outrage expressed by the strangers who signed petitions and filled the courthouse. No one should be as incensed as the hunters who follow the rules.

Toward the end of our chat, I ask Feral if she thinks most people aren’t aware of the hunting that can occur in the ribbon of woods that wrap around everyday life in Connecticu­t.

“Most people don’t see the hazard of taking a walk in the woods,” she said. “(Hunters) shoot at what they hear.”

In those Ridgefield woods, Konschak was alone. Now, everyone can see him. He’s lost his job (in, of all things) the health field. He has surrendere­d his reputation, something that can never be bought back, even on eBay.

The outcome of this case doesn’t really matter. Konschak will forever dwell on the internet as The Guy Who Did That. The hunter turned into the hunted. The guy in everybody’s crosshairs.

 ?? H John Voorhees III/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Protesters wait for Michael Konschak outside of Danbury Superior Court on Wednesday morning. Konschak is facing charges after he allegedly killed, beheaded and skinned a family’s dogs.
H John Voorhees III/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Protesters wait for Michael Konschak outside of Danbury Superior Court on Wednesday morning. Konschak is facing charges after he allegedly killed, beheaded and skinned a family’s dogs.
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