By Joseph Robertia
Warming weather and extended hours of light are coaxing more activity outside, which can be good, or particularly bad, when animals and people run afoul of each other.
“The warm temperatures are bringing out the roaming dogs, so now is when we see an explosion of outdoor accidents,” said Mary Huhndorf, a veterinarian at Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic.
She has already seen a seasonal uptick in the number of animals coming into the clinic with injuries, primarily dogs hit by vehicles. A dog also arrived last week with a gunshot wound.
“It was brought in after it was shot at a neighbor’s house. The people who shot it didn’t want to, but after the dog had killed six of their chickens, they didn’t know what else to do,” Huhndorf said.
This dog wasn’t the only one shot recently after intruding on another person’s property. Carrol Martin said he shot two dogs Friday after three came onto Martin’s Diamond M Ranch and killed one of Martins’ llamas and a miniature goat.
“We never even found the goat,” Martin said, “and the llama got chewed up pretty bad. He had deep puncture wounds all over his face, neck and body.”
Obama the Llama, as the Martins had named it, was still alive when the Martins found it and called a veterinarian. Despite treatment, the animal succumbed to its injuries later that evening. The Martins tried to track the dogs back to their place of origin. They seemed to live a whopping three miles away.
This is the second time the Martins have lost a llama to loose dogs. A stud llama imported from Chile was killed roughly five years ago.
“I don’t fault wild animals for doing what is natural to them. We lose barnyard fowl to owls and eagles, and if this was a coyote or bear that got the llama we wouldn’t fault them,” said Martin’s wife, JoAnne. “But this is someone’s pet and there’s no reason for their animals to be on our property killing our livestock.”
Pets and livestock aren’t the only animals that can be injured by roaming dogs. Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said loose dogs absent of their owners can also take a toll on native wildlife, especially moose calves.
Left on their own for hours at a time and barely coordinated enough to stand, much less defend themselves or run away, calves could easily be injured or killed by rogue dogs. Canines can cause trouble for mama moose, too.
“They’re coming out of winter trying to recover their body condition. Their stress levels are already high without defending themselves and their calves from dogs,” Lewis said.
Even dogs on their own property can occasionally harm wildlife, as Lewis saw firsthand
Thursday in an unusual event in Kasilof, as musher Jill Garnet’s sled dogs got a hold of a moose calf though the containment fence that borders her property.
“I was in the shower when I inconveniently heard the dogs barking hysterically outside,” Garnet said.
She ran out and saw a bad situation.
“A moose calf had made contact with the fence and three of them had stuck their head through the holes of the fence and were holding onto its leg,” she said.
Wearing nothing but a towel, Garnet wrestled the calf away from the dogs and did her best to restrain it and calm it down. Fearing it was injured she yelled for help, and was heard by contractors working on a cabin next door. They helped her with the calf and called Fish and Game.
“I picked it up and its wounds weren’t life-threatening, so I drove around with it looking for mama. I spent a lot of time looking, but only found one cow who showed zero interest in the calf,” Lewis said. “It was a big, strapping calf that deserved a fighting chance, so it was transported to the Alaska Moose Federation facility in Anchorage.”
Lewis said this facility is permitted by Fish and Game to raise the calf, but this was an atypical situation, and should not encourage the public to intervene in wildlife situations with young moose.
“I can’t stress enough that the public is not authorized to pick up calves perceived to be abandoned or orphaned,” Lewis said. “We must make the determination.”
Animal injuries are a two-way street, so to speak. While the calves are defenseless, a full-grown cow moose can cause severe injuries to a dog by kicking and stomping with its powerful legs.
Quite a few dogs also come into the clinic with a mouthful of quills after run-ins with porcupines, Huhndorf said. Coyotes sometimes prey on small dogs. And Lewis said that bears occasionally kill loose dogs or become aggressive when provoked by uncontrolled dogs.
“We’ve had incidents in the past that were made much more serious by loose dogs,” he said. “Dogs that run way ahead can bump into a bear, or disturb one on a kill site and then come running back with the bear hot on their tails, putting their owners at risk.”
Christi Matti, assistant animal control officer at the Kenai Animal Shelter, said that part of the problem this time of year is the time of year.
“Males get more hormonal, and if they catch the scent of a female, they want to breed. They can forget where they live and everything else, and go on the run,” she said. “This is one of the many reasons we encourage people to spay and neuter their pets. It can really cut down on this kind of problem.”
Within city limits in Kenai and Soldotna, dogs off their owner’s property without an owner in sight are a violation of city code. Still, accidents can happen and pets get loose, so keeping proper identification on a pet can let animal control officers, as well as others who see the loose dog, know if it is a pet that got away or a true stray with no home.
“We encourage people to have a license and tags, but we also encourage people to do the simple act of keeping a light-colored collar on their dog, so that they can use a permanent marker to write their phone number on it,” she said. “This way, even if neighbors or other people can’t get close enough to catch it or read the tags, they can see the number and give the owner a call.”
Some dogs slip their collars to go on the lam, so Matti also recommended microchipping dogs and keeping contact information up to date with the microchip company.
Huhndorf said it is often the dogs that suffer when their owners don’t act dutifully.
“It’s not a right to own an animal,” she said. “It’s a responsibility.”