Lilly was a bright light in Kayla Quales' world.

A gift from her family and husband last Easter, the Australian shepherd-pointer mix was loving and energetic.

"Her personality matched her brindle," said Quales, who lives in Kempton - a rural area of Berks County.

On Nov. 9, 10-month-old Lilly was playing at Quales' mother's house when she ran into the neighboring woods.

Within three hours, Quales received a call informing her that her dog had been shot by a bowhunter.

Quales said she was told the hunter had mistaken her dog for a coyote.

"I don't want to speculate on what happened, but she did suffer, and she didn't deserve that," Quales said.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is investigating. No official details of that investigation were available last week.

After articles about the shooting appeared on local television and newspaper websites, a debate began on the HuntingPa.com message board over who was at fault.

Some said the owners shouldn't have allowed the dog to run off their property.

Others said the hunter either knowingly killed a family pet for no good reason or broke a basic tenet of hunting safety, which dictates that hunters positively identify their targets before they shoot.

But what does the law say?

There are instances in which dogs running free can be shot under Pennsylvania law, but they are rare, says Keith Mohler, the Humane Society police officer for Pennsylvania SPCA in Lancaster County.

"It's a very narrow window," he said. "You can't just shoot a strange dog because it wanders onto your property."

***

Nov. 9 started out like a typical day for Quales.

Because she works days and her husband, Joseph, works nights, Quales took Lilly to her parents' house, where there would be people to keep her company.

"She prefers to be with people," Quales said. "And my parents have goats, and she loves to run around their pen."

Sometime around 5 p.m., Quales said, her mother and her siblings went outside and Lilly went with them.

The people got distracted, Quales said, and Lilly wandered off.

Quales' parents' property borders a farm where hunting occurs, she said.

Pennsylvania's archery deer season was in full swing Nov. 9.

Several members of Quales' family looked and called for Lilly, but the dog never returned.

Unaware Lilly was even missing, Quales said she got a call around 7:30 p.m. from her parents' neighbor.

Apparently, the man got Quales' phone number from Lilly's collar, and he called her to inform her that her dog had been shot and killed on his property.

Quales said the man told her that two hunters, whom he allows to hunt on his property, reported to him that some other hunters had shot and killed the dog with an arrow from a crossbow.

"He told me they mistook her for a coyote," she said.

Coyotes are legal game in Pennsylvania during the archery deer season.

The landowner gave Quales a description of the area where the dog was shot, and Quales and her family went out there early the next morning.

She said they found Lilly's body in a meadow.

Following a blood trail, they backtracked to the spot where they believed Lilly had been shot.

"It's just off our property," Quales said. "It's not like she went miles from home."

The fact that Lilly ran a distance before she died particularly disturbed Quales.

"It wasn't a quick kill," she said.

Quales is quick to admit her family's contribution to the tragedy.

"I understand that we needed to have her under control," she said. "If she had been on a leash, this wouldn't have happened."

But she's struggling to understand how her brown-and-white dog, wearing a collar that jingled when she moved, could have been shot and killed after being mistaken for a coyote by a bowhunter.

"I don't think we're looking to blame anybody, but if someone would come forward and tell us what really happened, I think we could find some comfort and closure," she said.

If it really was a mistake, Quales said, then she hopes the publicity surrounding Lilly's shooting reminds hunters to make sure they know what they are about to shoot before they pull the trigger.

"I want to raise awareness for hunters to remember their training and identify your target," she said.

***

According to Jason Raup, assistant counsel for the Game Commission, "there is no provision in our code that allows you to kill a dog in mistake for any game animal as a legally justifiable mistake."

That said, however, Raup indicated that Game Commission officers would consider the circumstances involved in a dog shooting to determine whether a hunter acted with negligence or malice.

For instance, he said, it might be possible for a hunter to honestly mistake a dog for a coyote.

Factors such as the appearance of the dog, the range of the shot and lighting conditions would be weighed before a decision would be made on filing charges.

"We take this identifying game very seriously because that's how people get shot," he said.

The state Game & Wildlife Code does allow for the shooting of dogs "by any person when the dog is found to be in the act of attacking a big game animal," the code states.

If a dog is merely chasing deer, turkeys or bears, it can be shot and killed only by a Game Commission officer.

"When it's just chasing, the public isn't allowed to kill a dog," Raup said.

People also can shoot dogs, Mohler said, if they are being attacked, if they witness someone being attacked or if livestock or pets are being attacked.

"Just by the fact that a dog is out in the woods, it's not justification for shooting the dog," he said.

On the flip side, Pennsylvania state law says it is illegal for owners to allow their dogs to run loose.

Dogs don't necessarily have to be leashed, Mohler said.

"They just have to be under the owner's immediate control, which can mean unleashed, but within command range," he said.

In rural areas, it's common for owners to let their dogs run loose, said Stephen Mohr, a Conoy Township supervisor, dog-law enforcement officer for Conoy and East Donegal townships and Marietta Borough and a former Game Commission board member.

But it's still illegal.

"An awful lot of people - farmers especially - they just let their dogs loose and they roam," he said.

One time a few years ago, Mohr said he picked up a dog three times - 2.5, 3 and 4 miles from its farm home.

The owner insisted to Mohr that the dog always stayed on his front porch, Mohr said.

"For a dog that's always on the front porch, it sure did a lot of wandering," he said.

And when dogs wander, that's when trouble can occur.

Mohler can rattle off several cases of dogs being shot in Lancaster County over his past 30 years on the job.

"It happens more than occasionally, and certainly more than I'd like," he said.

There was the case of the farmer outside Ephrata who shot and killed a dog that was in his cow pasture.

"He said the dog was chasing his cows, but it came out at trial that the dog was chasing his cows a year before he shot it, and his cows weren't even in the pasture the day he shot it," Mohler said.

And there was an incident in which a man spotted a dog chasing deer near Washington Boro.

The man drove around looking for the dog, and ended up shooting and killing a different dog.

"Either way it was illegal, because he wasn't allowed to shoot a dog for chasing deer in the first place," he said.

In such instances, Mohler sees plenty of blame to go around.

"Dog owners have to be aware that if their dog is running at large, and someone does something stupid and shoots it - even if it's illegal and they're arrested for it - that's not going to bring your dog back," he said.

Quales said she's well aware of that.

"I miss Lilly so tremendously," she said.

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