December 12, 2018

Maine Warden Service Guilty of PR Nightmare – Mystery Beast's Death Making Quite a Stir

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It’s not my job! That simple four word sentence has probably done more in negative public relations than one could imagine. The Maine Warden Service took a stand on an event that is going to cost them dearly in the campaign for better community relations.

Many of you have been following the highly visible story of the “Mystery Beast” or not, that was struck and killed by an automobile on Route 4 near Turner, Maine – stories here and here. The mistake the Maine Warden Service has made is costing them dearly.

When neighbors decided to call the Warden Service they reached Rick Stone of Poland. According to an earlier story in the Bangor Daily News, Stone told the caller(s):

The neighbors who found the animal called a Maine game warden who told them he could not drive from Poland to Turner to inspect the remains. The warden told them it was probably a coyote and told them to research it online. They were advised to call Central Maine Power Co. to haul the carcass away, since it was found near the power lines.

According to his supervisor Warden Service Deputy Chief Gregg Sanborn, Stone was following the book.

“He did what is expected of him by prioritizing what he goes to,” Sanborn said. He said Stone was also correct in talking with the caller to get the animal’s description to ensure it wasn’t something other than a possible coyote.

In a story written by Lewiston Sun-Journal writer Terry Karkos that was published in the Sun-Journal and the Bangor Daily News, Deputy Chief Sanborn tried to explain why the Warden Service decided not to respond to this particular call.

“Back 20 to 30 years ago, game wardens would remove a dead deer from the road so the public wouldn’t get upset. But the fact is, we don’t have the money anymore. Every time we roll a mile, it costs us 50 cents. Gas is at $3 a gallon, and we’ve been cutting back on warden costs,” he added.

Additionally, wardens routinely field complaints about dead wildlife and domestic animals but don’t respond. They don’t, Sanborn said, because the Maine Warden Service is a law enforcement agency.

“Our main mission is to enforce laws. So, when we receive a complaint like that, we can’t afford to drive around to look at dead things. Removing a dead animal is not a warden’s responsibility,” he added.

There are two things that are making this a publicity nightmare for the Maine Warden Service. The first is Sanborn’s efforts to explain why they chose not to respond. I understand his position as it is probably pounded into the heads of all wardens not to go chasing every “I’ve seen a mystery beast” story they get from residents. Had Sanborn decided simply to explain the position of the Warden Service in handling these calls, perhaps the damage would have been somewhat minimized. But he chose to lament about these issues leading a reader to believe that citizens are an inconvenience to them.

“When people have an issue, they expect the government to solve it for them. We’ve gotten a lot of calls referencing this. We’ve gotten a lot of flak about us removing the koi carp and not responding to this,” he said of the Turner “beast.”

Sanborn went on to make statements that people didn’t want to hear which brings me to the second part of this public relations debacle. I can understand initially that the Warden Service would opt not to respond to a story that they understood as one not involving any violation of the law. But as the story unfolded, it should have become clear to the Service that this story was being picked up globally and within Maine it was a story containing a lot of passion. In retrospect this could have been an opportunity for the Maine Warden Service to have made significant inroads into the public relations market.

Instead Sanborn continues by making assumptions about the animal and what happened.

He surmised that the Turner animal was probably a feral dog.

Contacted Thursday afternoon in Gray, Scott Lindsay, a Maine wildlife biologist, agreed.

Without knowing the stage of decomposition the canine was in when photographed, Lindsay said that from viewing photographs published in Wednesday’s Sun Journal it looked like the animal’s abnormal facial features were caused by cerebral edema, or brain swelling.

“It can make the ears look proportionally small, and all around the muzzle and head, it’s swollen up. So, it was probably a dog,” Lindsay said.

Sanborn said decomposition can also curl an animal’s lip as the skin dries, revealing the teeth.

This isn’t what residents from the Turner area want to hear. They have been dealing in some form or other for years about some mystery animal that has killed pets and scared the daylights out of people. They are looking for some support, some answers. I don’t think Maine people are the kind to go looking for goverment to solve their problems. They are too independent for that sort of socialistic behaviour. What they are looking for is for the Warden Service to show some interest and compassion.

Still, Sanborn continued to justify the actions of his department.

Still, Sanborn added, there is a certain situation where a warden would respond to a dead animal complaint.

“People have said for eons that there are cougars in the state of Maine, but there’s never been any proof. If this lady had called up and said a cougar got hit, and described a cougar, we probably would have gone,” he said.

Two wrongs do not make a right. The first wrong was not that the Warden Service opted to not respond. The first wrong came in publicizing through the press an attitude that made the neighbors in the Turner area look to be whining demanding socialists looking for the government to come and solve the problem of cleaning up a dead dog carcass. The comment, if true, that Warden Stone told the people to call Central Maine Power to clean up the carcass was callous and uncalled for.

The story, for whatever the reasons, caught on worldwide. Even strangers became involved in what was going on, yet the Maine Warden Service stuck to its policies and became hardened to the situation.

The second wrong happened when the Warden Service refused to make amends. They refused to see the problems this story was causing them. They refused to say to each other, “You know what? This is a story that falls outside the ‘do not call’ guidelines. People are angry at us. People want our help. We need to overlook what is our normal policy and send someone out to take a look.”

Even now after the world’s leading authority in cryptozoology, Loren Coleman, visited the scene trying to help the residents of the central Maine area figure out what kind of animal this was, the Warden Service is sticking to its policies.

This is bad news for Maine residents and for the Warden Service. It is always an ongoing battle with any kind of law enforcement agency to keep on the good side of its citizens. For whatever the reasons, seldom are law enforcement looked on in a favorable light. Stories, true and false, about bad law enforcement spread like wildfire. This is one reason most agencies like warden services carry a public relations department.

In my work, I am in contact with and I follow stories all across the U.S. Many of these stories involve bad relations between hunters and wardens, between fishermen and wardens, between recreational enthusiasts and wardens and also these same users with wildlife departments. There is presently a heated battle going on in Pennsylvania between their wildlife science personnel and game wardens, with hunters. Without getting into all the details, I will tell you the biggest problem that I think exists in the war is plain bad public relations and poor attitudes – on both sides.

Maine doesn’t need this. This is a simple story gone bad. I don’t blame the Maine Warden Service for not running to the call. They were doing their jobs. I do blame them for how they handled it from that point forward. The information given to the media by Deputy Chief Sanborn was degrading and full of a poor attitude toward the citizens of Turner. This was followed by not taking the initiate to right a wrong.

Tom Remington

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