Turning Tragedy Around: Betsy’s Story

Written by: Teresa Calafut


Betsy’s tragic death led to a hunter receiving little more than a slap on the wrist.

photo courtesy Teresa Calafut

A Note from Noah Horton of the Petfinder Foundation: Teresa Calafut of Uniondale, Pennsylvania, is one of the many generous donors who gave to the Petfinder Foundation through Orvis, which all this year has been matching donations dollar-for-dollar (learn more or donate now).

Nearly everyone who gives to the Petfinder Foundation has a deeply personal reason for doing so, and when we learned that Teresa had donated part of the settlement she’d received after her dog Betsy was shot by a hunter, we felt she deserved to tell her story — both as a cautionary tale to fellow pet parents and as a way to honor Betsy’s memory.

I asked Teresa what advice she would offer our readers to help them avoid a similar tragedy. “Remember that there is always the possibility that a hunter is near where you and your dog are hiking,” she said. “Hunting regulations are different in each state, and you need to know what they are for yours. In Pennsylvania, coyotes can be shot any day of the year so there is always a risk. But most of the hunting takes place in the fall; I don’t take the dogs anywhere from September to January unless hunting is prohibited, and they always wear blaze-orange jackets. And be aware that hunting is allowed in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like state parks in Pennsylvania.”

Here is Betsy’s story in Teresa’s own words:

Betsy’s Adoption and Personality
Betsy was a collie mix; she looked like she was part collie, part golden retriever with other breeds mixed in. She was born in March 2005 in North Carolina and she and her brother were rescued from a shelter when they were very young. I started looking for a dog about that time; a friend at work told me about Petfinder.com, where I found Chicklet, soon to be named Betsy.


Betsy relaxing on the couch.

photo courtesy Teresa Calafut

Her favorite toy was a Frisbee. She was obsessed; she would play for hours and hours, bringing the Frisbee back and dropping it at someone’s feet; if they didn’t respond, she would nudge it with her nose and stare at it fixedly. She brought Frisbees to anyone who was around and took them for walks and in the car. I kept buying new ones as they were chewed up or disappeared and found a few Frisbees in the yard or field after she died.

We went for walks every day in the field and pasture behind my house. She wasn’t interested in the horses but did get sprayed by skunks a few times. Sometimes we would go for longer hikes in local parks; longer hikes tired her out and she slept a lot the next day, giving me a rest from being continually bumped with a Frisbee. We went camping and hiking in the Adirondack Park in New York; she seemed to enjoy seeing new places and things. Of course she always brought her Frisbee. She was a sweet dog, never ran off anywhere, and everybody always liked her.

Betsy’s Last Hike
On October 26, 2007, Betsy and I and a group of seven hikers were hiking near Slate Run in the Pine Creek area of central Pennsylvania. Betsy was glad to get out of the car and was running around exploring the woods.

It was fast. Someone in the front of the group said, “There’s a hunter,” and immediately I was past the bush to see a hunter aiming a long gun at my Betsy. He was wearing camouflage, without any noticeable orange or reflective wear. I screamed; people shouted, “Don’t shoot!” Then I heard a pop. Betsy was still standing; I thought maybe he missed, but then she took a few steps and fell over on the other side of the road in some grass and leaves. The hunter came over to look at her, I screamed at him to get away from her. He said he thought she was a coyote. Betsy was shot in the abdomen and back area on her right side. She was shot at about 1:30 p.m.

The hunter said he would go get his truck to take her to a vet and he left. Another hiker and I sat by Betsy, petting her and talking to her. I tried to stay calm. My life was falling apart.

The hunter came back up the road. The remaining hikers and I put Betsy in the truck and I climbed in. The hunter drove fast down the winding road, racing toward the vet, who was waiting outside to meet us. The hunter and the vet carried Betsy inside. The vet did x-rays and examined her, and then came to talk to me. He said that Betsy had internal bleeding, and that the bullet had fragmented into pieces inside of Betsy. The vet recommended surgery to remove the bullet fragments.

When the surgery was completed, the vet came out and told us that he had removed 14 inches of Betsy’s lower colon and stitched up other sections of her colon. I wanted to stay overnight with Betsy, but the vet told me I couldn’t. Instead, I stayed overnight at a local hotel. In the morning, I called the vet and heard that Betsy had died at 2:00 a.m., in her sleep.

The court case
The shooting was investigated by the chief ranger for Tiadaghton State Forest and the report transferred to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The hunter was to be cited for shooting on or across a highway, shooting at game near a road ($100-300 fine), damage to property (Betsy, a fine of $75-200), and damages ($1,700 veterinary bill). The hunter lost his license for one year.

I had trouble finding a lawyer—most said you could only sue for the price of the “property”—but finally found someone who would sue for damages and infliction of emotional distress. The legal process was slow and stressful, with questionnaires, depositions, evaluations, pretrial meetings, jury selection and finally a settlement meeting. I didn’t want the money from the settlement and decided to donate it to pet charities. I had planned to donate to the Petfinder Foundation, and when Orvis said it would match a donation, I sent in a check.


Theresa found herself drawn to Gracie, whom she adopted after Betsy’s death.

photo courtesy Teresa Calafut

Gracie and Millie
I was devastated after Betsy died. It was hard to get up in the morning and get through the day. An animal communicator I contacted said there was a dog out there who needed me and Betsy would send me a dog, a collie with a white blaze down her nose and white under her chin and on her chest and belly.

I started looking at the dogs who needed homes on Petfinder and thought I would like to adopt two dogs someday, since two dogs was the most I thought I could handle, and young or older dogs and not puppies, since puppies find homes more easily. After a few weeks of looking, I found myself drawn to a collie mix at Collie Concern Rescue in Tennessee. I went through the application process and a few weeks later, just before the holidays, I drove down to Tennessee between snow and ice storms to bring her home with me. She was smaller than Betsy, about 35 lbs., with orange-brown fur, white on her chest, stomach and tail, and with a white blaze down her nose.

Gracie was a happy dog but she had lived with other dogs in her foster home and I thought she would like another dog in the family. In the spring I contacted Collie Concern Rescue and in July I adopted a sable and white rough collie who had been found wandering near someone’s home.

Gracie and Millie go for car rides, walks and hikes and play together or with their friends. Gracie is 5 this year and Millie maybe around 7 years old. Gracie is a high-energy dog, high-strung and bouncy, and Millie is calm and serene. They are my best friends and I hope we have many more years together.

Click here to visit the Petfinder Foundation.


Theresa with Gracie and Millie, who have helped her recover from the loss of Betsy.

photo courtesy Teresa Calafut

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