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Butte family's husky shot with .22-caliber rifle in residential area

I can’t remember a time in my childhood that a dog didn’t rule the roost in the Thornton household. They weren’t just pets, they were family.

More than a few tears were shed this weekend as I read a post on a local social media page about a husky being shot in Butte. The post bothered me for the rest of the weekend.

Bill Willis and Kenai

Bill Willis sits with his beloved dog, Kenai, who was shot last Saturday near his home in Butte.

“Who would shoot a dog?” I kept asking myself.

Come Monday morning I decided to get in touch with the dog’s owners, Bill and Sherlyn Willis, who are in the process of moving to Butte and renovating their new home on Trenton Street.

This was not a “welcome to Butte” any family needed.

I had to know the full story and more importantly, ask the difficult question — “Was Kenai going to make it?”

"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole,” wildlife photographer and animal activist Roger Caras once said. To the Willis family, their two dogs, Kenai, a husky, and Jaako, a golden retriever, make their lives complete. The two canines are not pets — they are beloved family members.

Last Saturday, the unspeakable, from start to finish, took less than 10 minutes.

In the midst of moving and renovating, Sherlyn, along with her two sons, Riggs and Rider, had come to Butte to unpack some of their belongings. Bill was out buying flooring.

While unloading, Sherlyn didn’t completely shut the side gate and the two dogs made a successful break for it and headed for the fields and beyond.

“Me and the boys went out calling for them right away,” explained Sherlyn. “Only Jaako came back.”

Sherlyn suspected Kenai headed to a nearby creek. While her sons continued to look for Kenai, she completely opened the side gate so the husky could easily get back in.

Sadly, Kenai was already back. As Sherlyn turned toward the house, the husky, completely wet, was lying on his right side near the garage. Instantly, she knew something was wrong.

“He wouldn’t look at me or wag his tail,” recalled Sherlyn. “He couldn’t even lift his head.”

After calling Bill to explain the situation, Sherlyn got Kenai to a local veterinarian. The husky then spent a night at a Missoula facility, where he could be monitored throughout the night.

The diagnosis — blunt force trauma to his body and a .22 caliber bullet in his chest.

Kenai was able to return home with the bullet still lodged within, but the couple is worried they still may lose him. Bill said the lethargic Kenai was on his way Tuesday afternoon to Bozeman for surgery following complications. 

According to the online site, The Spruce Pets, huskies are a high-energy breed that likes to run.

Bill couldn’t agree more. “Huskies do love to run,” he said, “and Kenai is no exception.”

Spruce Pets also highlighted the fact that huskies are very friendly.

“Anyone looking for a husky guard dog will be sorely disappointed,” the site advised, “because huskies are simply too friendly and too trusting of strangers.”

Yes, Kenai is friendly and loves to roam.

Bill can count on one hand the number of times his husky has gotten loose. In spite of their success rate, the family does not take any chances. So much so a leash is needed even when taking Kenai from the car to the house. Without it, he would be off and running.

Diligence is a small price the couple is willing to pay.

Now, Bill stays nearby Kenai, who lies listlessly near his feet. He doesn’t understand why anyone would have shot his beloved dog.

“I went door-to-door asking if anyone had seen anything,” said Bill, “but had no luck.”

The couple did not contact local law enforcement. “What could they do?” said Bill. “We have no idea who did it.”

Bill hopes this is an isolated incident but is not taking any chances. Since the shooting, he has had cameras installed, including remote ones. He wants to keep his dogs safe.

He also hopes if people have a problem with his dogs, they come talk to him.

“You talk with the person,” he said. “You don’t shoot their dog.”

A Butte native, Bill left in 1984 but is happy to be back, in spite of everything. Sherlyn is happy about the move as well.

“We’re glad to be here,” said Bill, “in spite of one bad neighbor.”

As for the "bad neighbor,'' if caught, he or she could potentially be fined for discharging a firearm in a residential area and also be charged with cruelty to animals.

Let’s hope Kenai doesn’t pay the ultimate price. Keep him and the Willis family in your thoughts.

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