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‘Disturbing and Very Unusual’: Authorities Seek Info in Hunt for Spiked Dog Treat Perpetrator on AT

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On Sunday, May 5, a hiker made an unnerving discovery on a section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) between PA Route 873 and the George W. Outerbridge Shelter in Pennsylvania. Scattered on the ground were handfuls of dog treats set with large barbed fishhooks — a potentially lethal snack for any passing pooch.

The discovery was reported by the Lehigh Gap Nature Center (LGNC) in a post to the organization’s Facebook page. It warned visitors with dogs to take caution when hiking in the area. While all treats that were found were removed, there was no way of knowing how many were left or could remain.

LGNC told GearJunkie that the hiker discovered these dog treats on a section of the AT outside its property. It said the episode is not directly connected to the nature center.

“We are just passing along information,” LGNC said.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) is actively investigating the incident.

“At this point, it’s still an open investigation. We have no information that anyone from the public or their pets was injured or had consumed any of these. There is no evidence or reports of any wildlife found deceased, either,” Dustin Stoner, a Game Warden with PGC, told GearJunkie.

“We are continuing to investigate as this is a pretty disturbing and very unusual event. We certainly want to hold the person that’s responsible for this accountable.”

Fish Hooks in Dog Treats on the Appalachian Trail

The area where these treats were discovered is a popular section of the AT in Lehigh Gap, Penn. According to LGNC, tens of thousands of people visit the area every year. With almost 40% of Pennsylvania households owning a dog, pets are common on the trails.

Stoner said that several wardens followed up on the hiker’s discovery, checking the area for any more fishhooked dog treats. They didn’t find any, but he said the public should remain vigilant when hiking in the area.

He said they’re currently trying to get any information from the public about who was on the trail that day. They want to know if anyone saw something suspicious. Even if someone took a photo in the parking lot with license plates in it, that could be helpful. At this point, he said they’re looking for any leads.

“It can be a pretty busy area up there, especially on a nice day with spring weather,” he said. “There was probably a lot of traffic, and hopefully, somebody saw something and is willing to talk about it.”

Stoner said that, to their knowledge, there hadn’t been any recent confrontations between dog owners and other trail users. He said this was very uncommon for the area.

According to Pennsylvania state law, attempting to poison, maim, or kill another person’s pet could be a third-degree felony charge with a $1,000 fine and/or a 2-year minimum prison sentence. Stoner pointed out, that’s just one of the criminal penalties that could be leveled against someone for a crime like this.

“There are numerous game law violations that you could look at,” he said. From attempting to unlawfully take wildlife to harassing wildlife, placing foodstuffs for wildlife on state game lands, and littering, there are a lot of potential charges that could come with this.

“It’s going to depend on what we find out. And what evidence we have to show that this individual did this,” he said.

Stoner said that PGC wardens are meeting with the National Park Service, which manages the AT, to share its investigation and findings so far. “Hopefully we can get to the bottom of it in short order,” he said.

Cruel but Not Uncommon

While setting large fishhooks into dog treats is cruel and malicious, spiking or lacing dog treats is not uncommon. Just in 2023, dog treats laced with rat poison were found along a trail on Mt. Tabor in Oregon. In 2014, numerous meatballs laced with rat poison were left in a Boulder, Colo., dog park, making three dogs extremely ill. A similar thing happened in Canada with poisoned hot dogs.

People take this even further, too, and will sometimes target humans. Booby-trapping bike paths is a disturbing trend that’s cropped up in recent years. In 2017, GearJunkie reported on a Colorado Springs, Colo., incident in which two cyclists were flipped by a tripwire, sending one of them to the hospital.

Authorities are asking the public for information regarding this recent case of fishhook dog treats on the PA section of the AT.

“It’s going to be very helpful if the public knows anything if they report it to us and help us out with this,” said Stoner.

PGC encourages anyone who finds more fishhooked dog treats or who might know anything about the incident to contact them via the 24/7 communication center at (833) 742-9453.

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