While out on her regular morning hike through the Squamish, British Columbia, woods on Monday, 4-year-old therapy dog Karou was allegedly shot and killed by a hunter near Lake Lucille, reports CTV News Vancouver.
The rare Tamaskan dog (a Finnish breed of working dog specifically bred to look like a wolf by mixing the Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute and German shepherd breeds) worked with children with autism and people with emotional problems as a therapy pet at Canine Valley, a rehabilitation center in Squamish.
Her owner, Valley Calderoni, tells PEOPLE that Karou was the “role model” dog at Canine Valley. “She was the ‘mama bear’ for the rest of the dogs and puppies.”
Calderoni, the founder of the center, says she was on a walk with Karou and a colleague, Markie Blackburn, and nine more dogs they care for at Canine Valley when the tragic accident took place. (Some of the dogs were off leash.) She alleges the hunter was just three meters — about 20 feet — away from them, and in a Facebook post about the incident, claims her pet was shot “point blank” in front of her. Distraught, Calderoni tried to save the dog, who had stumbled and collapsed, but her injuries were too severe.
The women speculate that the hunter mistook Karou for a wolf.
“There was a huge amount of blood. I just told her to ‘let go’ and she died,” Calderoni told CTV News Vancouver. “This man took my dog’s life because he thought she was a wolf. We could have died.”
According to The Squamish Chief, the B.C. Conservation Service is investigating the incident, which was also filed with the police, and everyone is fully cooperating, including the hunter.
Sgt. Simon Gravel told CTV News Vancouver the hunter has claimed misidentification of the species, saying he was hunting for deer but “believed [Karou] was a wolf.” Although hunting is allowed in the area, it is not legal to hunt wolves there.
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However, conservation officer Kent Popjes told the CBC it is legal hunting season for mule deer and black bears.
Popjes also said this accident highlights the importance of hunters fully identifying their targets, and added that pet owners should ideally put something bright, like a vest, on their dogs so they’re more easily recognized as pets.
Calderoni told CTV News Vancouver that she often hikes in that area with children, as well as dogs, and wants hunters to be more aware of their surroundings. Conservation officials say the backcountry region is commonly used by hunters, dog walkers, mountain bikers and hikers alike.
A Go Fund Me campaign was started by Calderoni to honor her dog’s therapeutic legacy, as well as in hopes of having hunting banned in the area. She also aims to further protect wolves, whose plight was brought to Canine Valley’s attention through this unfortunate accident.
“The only consolation for this horrible thing is we can create change,” Calderoni told PEOPLE . “We’re doing better than 50 years ago, animals have some rights now. I would like to help so this never happens again. Something good should come of Kaoru’s death.”