Dog attacks on deer, elk aren’t an isolated problem
The horrific mauling of an elk by two dogs on Shadow Mountain Saturday is far from an isolated incident in the Roaring Fork Valley, wildlife officers lamented yesterday.
From the vast, open fields of Missouri Heights to the low-density subdivisions in rural areas, and even at the outskirts of Aspen, as Saturday’s incident proves, reports of dogs chasing wildlife come in with alarming frequency according to state and local authorities.
“It’s a problem throughout the valley,” said Colorado Division of Wildlife Officer Kevin Wright.
The 19-year veteran with the wildlife division said he had never caught dogs in the act of attacking a deer or elk before Saturday but he’s frequently witnessed the results of their work. Often it involves a wounded animal with its guts dragging on the ground and chunks missing from legs, the rear end and face.
“Dogs just bite an animal everywhere,” said Wright. “They’re just not efficient killers.”
The problem, noted Pitkin County Wildlife Biologist Jonathan Lowsky, is that dogs still have a predator’s instincts but they have been domesticated for so long that they have lost a killer’s touch.
@ATD Sub heds:Ignorance isn’t bliss
@ATD body copy: Lowsky said that one of the most disturbing dog issues comes when owners let them romp off leash during hikes in the spring, during the times that does are dropping fawns.
Fido’s diversion into the woods might turn deadly while the owner hikes along oblivious, Lowsky said. He believes that many of the fawn deaths attributed to coyotes are actually due to dogs.
Elk start calving in mid-May and continue into the third week of June. Their busiest time is early June. Deer are on a similar schedule.
Pitkin County Animal Control Officer ReRe Baker said when a dog finally gets caught chasing wildlife it’s usually after it has developed a pattern for that behavior.
Dog owners may see their loyal pet at home when they leave in the morning and find it there when they return at the end of the day. What they might not realize is the dog has been roaming during the day, chasing herds of deer and elk.
“Citizens need to know they can’t cut their dogs loose,” Baker said.
It’s not just attacks from dogs that can harm deer and elk. Studies by the wildlife division show that deer and elk experience elevated heart rates even at the sight of a dog.
Wright said the increased stress can prove deadly to an animal if it is already fighting for survival during a cold or snowy winter. He noticed during last year’s drought that elk weren’t building as much body fat. If they are expending a lot of energy running from dogs during the winter, they theoretically could run out of reserves late in the season.
@ATD Sub heds:Incident could help educate
@ATD body copy: Lowsky said Saturday’s incident could provide a silver lining because it makes the wildlife officials’ point in a graphic way with the public.
“People belittle the efforts we make regarding dogs,” he said.
He and Wright said there are plenty of examples of both good and bad dog owners. On the Rio Grande Trail, for example, the leash law is largely ignored. The leash law was so widely ignored on the Emma Trail that Pitkin County Open Space banned dogs after harassment of livestock became a problem.
On the other hand, dog owners are often environmentally savvy and sensitive. “Most dog owners care about wildlife and they’re responsible,” said Lowsky.
Pitkin County government has tried to coax cooperation by banning dogs in many rural subdivisions approved in recent years. But the county has no canine cops roaming the neighborhoods, so compliance is largely voluntary. Complaints are sometimes made by neighbors.
Some people move to rural areas to let their dogs run free. Others move into a subdivision where dogs were banned and either ignore the rule or are unaware of it.
“I would have to guess, but I would say the compliance is limited,” said Lowsky.
Some people perceive that deer and elk are thriving since there are 100 of them feeding in their lawn. But the reason they are in a lawn is because prime habitat has been developed, he said.
Mild winters the last six years have let the big game off the hook, to a large degree. When a severe winter returns, deer and elk will be even more common in populated areas, Lowsky said.
That’s when it will be even more vital that people get a grip on their dogs.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.]
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