PEABODY, Mass. — Alberto Carva watched in horror as his hunting dog Brownie thrashed and yelped, his front leg caught in the jaws of a coyote trap in the Maine woods.
As the 84-year-old Portuguese immigrant leaned in to release the trap, his terrified dog lashed out, biting holes in his left arm and one of his legs. Carva lay on him, trying to use his weight to immobilize the animal.
Then Brownie, a mix of beagle and Podengo, a Portuguese hunting breed, latched on to Carva’s right hand and whipped his head back and forth, causing blood to erupt from the base of Carva’s thumb.
“I try to open his mouth. I try … I try … I try. No. He no let go,” Carva said through tears as he recounted last week’s ordeal in Newfield, Maine, that almost cost him his hand.
He couldn’t free his hand from the dog’s mouth and feared he would die from the loss of blood.
Carva, who has been visiting Maine for years to hunt snowshoe rabbits, grabbed for his shotgun with his left hand. He angled the barrel toward the tan, stocky dog and squeezed the trigger. The gun fired lead shot but had no effect. Amid all the blood and terror, he had missed.
Desperate and in agony, he braced the barrel against the animal’s head and pulled the trigger again. Instantly, Brownie went limp.
“I have to shoot him,” he said softly. “I have to do it.”
Carva had set out from his apartment in an elderly-housing complex in Peabody between 5 and 6 a.m. on Oct. 24. He picked up his dogs, Brownie and Dorado, along with his friend’s dog, Pirata. Since he and his wife moved into Peabody Manor, where they can’t have dogs, his friend Louis Adelino has looked after them.
“He’s crazy for hunting – rabbit hunting,” said Adelino, who remembers going to New Bedford with Carva, who paid $5,000 for a hunting dog that would not only flush out game, but also track down and retrieve injured animals. “He always had the best dogs he could find.”
After last week’s incident, “I went to the hospital to see him and the guy just had tears running down his face when he was telling me what he had to do to get out of the situation,” Adelino said.
Brownie wasn’t yet a prize dog. He was just 4 years old and still learning.
Carva has been hunting rabbits since he was 14, in Portugal, and it has been an important part of his life.
Around 1950, he joined his brother in Angola and hunted big game. He still has a scar on his stomach where a cape buffalo gored him and tossed him 20 feet in the air.
It was in southern Africa that he met his wife, Maria, who was visiting family. They had two sons, eventually returned to Lisbon and then emigrated to the United States, where he started a small paving company in Massachusetts.
Hunting was always his refuge, one that would grow more important as his family was hit with repeated tragedies.
His son Carlos broke his neck when he dived into Canobie Lake in New Hampshire and hit the bottom. Paralyzed, he needed constant care. He died about five years ago.
Carva’s son Anthony was breaking up a fight in New Hampshire when he was accidentally shot and killed.
And Carva was diagnosed recently with a head and neck cancer. He gets radiation treatment and has lost hearing in one ear. He has lost many of his teeth and cannot eat, taking liquid supplements through a port in his stomach.
“Sometimes I go to bed, I pray to God I don’t wake up anymore,” he said.
Now, when Carva goes to the Maine woods to hunt, it’s not really to shoot rabbits but to escape the pain of his thoughts, he said.
“It takes things out of my mind,” he said. “I’m listening to the dogs and watch the dogs. … I can’t hear very well (but) I can hear dogs a mile away.”
Newfield, in western York County, is less than two hours from his home. On Oct. 24, Carva and three dogs spent maybe a couple of hours in the woods there. He shot no rabbits – he thinks coyotes have winnowed the rabbit population.
They had just gotten back to his pickup truck, ready to return to Massachusetts, when he heard frantic barking nearby. Dorado and Pirata leapt in the truck.
Carva stepped into the edge of the woods and saw Brownie. “He stuck … he jerk so much,” he said, describing how the dog writhed in his effort to escape the trap. “I have to try to help him take off the thing.”
Without thinking, he went to help the dog.
“There’s no way I can take it off,” he said of the trap. “He bit me all over the place, like this, like this, like this,” Carva said, miming with his left hand the biting motion.
Telling his tale Thursday, he had trouble talking and frequently raised both hands to his forehead as he described trying to help the dog, then fearing for his own life and finally having to make the painful decision to kill his animal.
“I try to save him. I try because I suffer so much,” he said, referring to the deaths of his sons and his own battle with cancer. He didn’t want to lose anything else.
As he lay on the dog’s carcass, able finally to free his hand, he was soaked in blood and knew he needed help.
He removed Brownie’s collar – he can’t remember why – climbed into his truck and drove out the dirt road toward help, holding his right hand high to try to slow the flow of blood.
When Carva pulled into the K&D Corner Store in West Newfield, someone called an ambulance, and someone else wrapped his hand to try to stop the bleeding. The report to the York County Sheriff’s Office was that a man had shot off his fingers.
When rescue workers arrived, they cut off Carva’s shirt, bandaged his hand and took him to Goodall Hospital in Sanford. There, he received stitches to a half-dozen spots on his right hand and one of the fingers on his left hand, and treatment for other wounds. He drove himself home that night.
When his wife met him at the door, he was dressed in a hospital gown and still wearing his bloody pants. She had him take them off and threw them away.
The next day, his hand was throbbing and swollen. His wife urged him to see a doctor, but he refused. The next day, Saturday, the swelling was worse and his hand had started to turn a grayish purple, his wife said.
“His hand’s like a balloon,” she said. “It looked like an animal paw, not a human hand.”
A doctor at the hospital in nearby Salem said his hand was badly infected and if he didn’t stay the night, he would probably lose it, she said. Alberto Carva didn’t make it home again until Wednesday.
On Thursday, the swelling had subsided but the hand was still tender. He kept it wrapped in a protective sleeve, a bag of synthetic ice draped over it.
His emotional wounds were still raw. “He hasn’t been the same since it happened,” his wife said. “He can’t stop crying all the time for the dog.”
He also is angry and baffled that coyote trapping goes on when hunters with dogs are in the woods.
Maine’s statewide season for trapping a number of species, including coyotes, runs from Nov. 3 to Dec. 31, but an early fox and coyote trapping season runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 2, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Snowshoe hare can be hunted from Oct. 1 to March 31.
Carva said he has no intention of hunting again.
“I quit. No more,” he said. “It’s too much.”
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: