Wyoming Animal Cruelty Laws Don’t Apply To Alleged Wolf Torment Case

Animal cruelty charges can’t be filed in the case of a man allegedly tormenting a wolf in Sublette County, because a “predatory animal” is exempted from Wyoming cruelty statutes.

Mark Heinz

April 04, 20245 min read

Gray wolf rolling in snow 4 4 24
(Getty Images)

A man who allegedly tormented a wolf in Sublette County has sparked widespread outrage and calls for stiff animal cruelty charges in the case, but Wyoming’s animal cruelty laws don’t extend to wolves.

Wyoming’s animal cruelty statutes apply only to domestic animals such as livestock and pets. And a “predatory animal,” such as a wolf in Sublette County, is explicitly excluded.

“You’re looking at two different things” between the treatment of a domestic animal and a wild animal, former Wyoming Attorney General Gay Woodhouse told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

Woodhouse cited specific language that exempts animal cruelty statutes from applying to wild animals.

The animal cruelty charges and penalties don’t apply to “the hunting, capture or destruction of any predatory animal or other wildlife in any manner not otherwise prohibited by law,” according to Wyoming statue.

In cases where the law does apply for domestic animals, penalties for felony animal cruelty charges in Wyoming can be stiff. Violators can be punished by up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine for each offense.

Wyoming state Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, told Cowboy State Daily that he doesn’t expect Wyoming statute to change because of the incident with the wolf in Sublette County.

Laws written in response to one terrible case typically don’t pan out in any practical manner and can have unintended consequences, said Hicks, who also served on the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force.

Man Issued $250 Fine

According to the account of events, a man ran the wolf down with a snowmobile Feb. 29, disabling it, then taped its mouth shut and kept it alive for a time, at one point showing it off to bar patrons in Daniel, a tiny town in Sublette County.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department verified that somebody was cited and fined for being in possession of a live wolf, but didn’t release that person’s name, the name of the investigating game warden or any exact details of the case.

Sublette County Circuit Court records, however, show that local resident Cody Roberts was cited for a wildlife violation stemming from an incident that day, Feb. 29, and that Adam Hymas was the investigating agent.

A $250 fine for illegal possession of a live wild animal was issued in the case.

Wave Of Outrage

Reports of the incident sparked a wave of outrage. Hunters and wildlife biologists condemned it as an egregious violation of hunting and conservation ethics.

Cowboy State Daily also received a flood of emails decrying the incident, many of them asking why there wasn’t a stiffer penalty, such as an animal cruelty charge.

“I just find a $250 fine is totally unacceptable and truly feel he needs to pay a much higher price, both financially and with relentless condemnation from the community at large,” wrote Frances Agius.

Nichole Cooper wrote that “$250 is beyond light” and “this is clearly animal torture.”

“A $250 fine? For torturing a wild wolf? I am outraged. This should be a felony. Where are the animal rights activists? This person obviously needs some mental health intervention,” Pat Blohm stated in an email.

And one reader stated the incident was enough to make them change their mind about moving to Wyoming.

“We were actually going to buy a large home in your state. Not anymore after learning about this sicko, you people are sick!” wrote Kerry Kent.

Game And Fish Did What It Could

Some suggested that Game and Fish had treated the case too lightly, but the agency stated that it had applied the relevant charge and penalty.

“The individual was cited for a misdemeanor violation of Wyoming Game and Fish Commission regulations, Chapter 10, Importation and Possession of Live Warm-Blooded Wildlife,” Game and Fish said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

The statement also detailed other factors at play, including:

  • Per Wyo Stat. Ann. 23-1-304 (d)(vi) any information regarding wolves taken in Wyoming is not a public record.

  • Per Wyo. Stat. Ann. 6-3-1008 (a)(vii) animal cruelty charges are not applicable to predatory animals.

  • Predatory animals are defined in Wyo. Stat. Ann. 23-1-101(a)(viii)(B).

  • Misdemeanor fines are set in state statute.

When contacted by Cowboy State Daily on Thursday, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission President Ralph Brokaw stated that he couldn’t discuss the matter “due to legal reasons.”

Law Probably Won’t Change

Hicks said he understands the anger in response to the incident, but said it’s unlikely that Wyoming’s animal cruelty statutes will be changed.

The alleged torment of the wolf in Sublette County was “an aberration,” he said. “We may never hear about somebody doing something like this for another 100 years.”

Given that, any legislative bill that might be drafted in response would “have to be incredibly narrow, for one specific type of instance,” he said. “It would have to be so narrow that it would never be used. Or, so broad that it would be misused.”

An overly broad animal cruelty statute that might include wildlife could potentially also be used against hunting, trapping or predator control in Wyoming, Hicks said.

He also said that “the court of public opinion” has already been harsh in the case, and that can be a more powerful deterrent than any new statute.

“I think it’s sending a pretty good message, ‘Don’t go out and do something like this,’” Hicks said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter