Ian Malloch was jogging up the Santa Cruz Trail in the early morning on Tuesday, January 15. Just ahead of him were two of his three dogs, Billy and Macaroni. Macaroni, or Mac for short, was the larger of the two, about 65 pounds, a German wire haired pointer and Billy, a much smaller mixed-breed, black and white, wire haired terrier, a longtime family pet rescued through a San Fernando Valley-based organization called Life4Paws. The third dog, named Trouble, was left at home, too small for the long out-and-back trip to the top of Little Pine Mountain.
It was a good day for a run — cold, crisp air with the promise of afternoon warming for the trip back down. From Upper Oso campground the trio followed a jeepway for three-fourths of a mile to the point where the Santa Cruz Trail veered off, following a narrow canyon along a creek bed in the direction of a small backcountry overnight spot known as Nineteen Oaks.
About halfway to the camp the trail climbed up over a small hump and the turned right around a bend. With the dogs leading the way, they disappeared around the bend with Ian following from a distance he estimated to be no more than 30 to 40 yards.
Suddenly there was a shout — a single word — “Yo!” and the sound of barking. Then a gunshot. Within seconds Ian ran onto the scene, his dog Billy lying on the ground, his blaze orange collar blown off his neck with the plastic clasp missing a few yards away. Ian looked down in shock, unable to believe what he was seeing.
“I’m sorry, bro, I had to put your dog down,” one of the hunters said.
“Why!?” Ian asked.
“I thought it was a wild dog,” he answered.
“We didn’t come out here to shoot your dog,” the other said.
“Does it really matter what you came out here for?” Ian responded. “You did shoot my dog.” Later Ian explained to me that the blaze orange collar Billy had on was clearly visible, and he couldn’t believe both Billy and Mac together, on a hiking trail, both wearing collars, could be mistaken for wild dogs.”
Crouching over his silenced dog with a pool of blood surrounding his furry head, Ian briefly wept realizing his beloved pet was dead. Still in shock, Ian boosted Billy up for what was perhaps the most painful two-mile walk of his life. “I carried him down the trail over my shoulder, blood soaking my shirt all the way down my legs to my running shoes,” Ian remembered. One of the hunters offered Ian an extra shirt from his truck when they reach the vehicles, and from there Ian insisted they head to the Santa Barbara Ranger District office to report the incident.
A week later, I am sitting at Café Luna in Summerland with Ian to talk about Billy and to understand more about what his loss has meant. We’re sitting outside with Macaroni lying beside us. “I wanted you to meet Mac,” Ian said, “so you know the kind of dog he is.”
“Billy was a good dog too, such a good dog; everyone who ever met him fell in love with him, a mutt of sorts, a cross between a terrier and some other sort of long, skinny-legged mutt that seemed to suit him perfectly. Benji adorable.”
As we talked, the thoughts came out of Ian in a rambling sort of way. Memories of a dog that did not deserve to die that way, efforts to understand why there wasn’t another way to handle the situation.
“We’re talking about two large men and one small dog,” Ian said. “One of the hunters was over 6 foot and 230 pounds; the other 6’ 5” and 210 pounds. You’re that big and you can’t figure out a way to handle things differently?”
In another moment Ian took stock of those who’ve blamed him for not having the dogs on leash. “Yes, it’s true,” he said, “Billy would be alive if he were on leash. But who has the greater responsibility here, the 40-pound dog that doesn’t even come to my knee or the 230-pound hunter decked out in camo gear with a deadly weapon in his hands? It’s a moral issue of sorts, that you can take a dog’s life so quickly … a very convenient way to escalate a situation to the point of no return.”
Then Ian added, “It may have been within their ability to kill Billy and legal under the law, but that doesn’t make it right. Every hunter I know would have made a different decision.”
“I thought there would be legal repercussions for shooting a dog in the middle of a recreation area,” Ian said to me. “We’re not more than a mile from Upper Oso, one of the largest overnight campgrounds back here, and yet hunters can legally hunt that close to one one of the most popular trails back here?”
Over the weekend, Ian and a close friend hiked up to Montecito Peak to bury Billy’s ashes. “It was a hike that Billy and I had done many times … that’s where he was the happiest,” he said. They found a secluded spot not too far from the top of the peak, dug a two-foot-deep hole, and buried Billy in a small wooden box with Macaroni looking down at his lifelong companion.
“Now every time I go back up the San Ysidro Trail with Mac, I’ll be able to be with Billy again,” Ian said. “For me now, I’ll always think of it as Billy’s Peak.
On Groundhog Day, Ian and his family will make the trek back up once again with family and friends to celebrate Billy’s life. They invite you to come along and share in the memories of those who have hiked the trails with their dogs.