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By Shanti Johnson
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) issued a warning on Feb. 13 — keep your dogs “under control and away from deer, elk and other wild animals, or face the possibility of steep fines and the loss of a beloved pet.”
Wildlife officials cite several reason for the crackdown. According to the CPW press release, “by late winter, many big game animals susceptible to dog harassment are pregnant females.”
When running from charging dogs, “deer and elk expend crucial energy that can lead to an increase in the mortality rate of the animals or their unborn calves and fawns.”
Officials also warn that, in mustering the energy to run away, deer and elk tap into already limited fat stores, which can be detrimental to the health of the animal.
If altercations with dogs occur frequently enough, fat storage can become depleted to the point where it results in the animal’s death from starvation.
Ron Velarde, CPW’s northwest regional manager, cautions pet owners, saying, “because it is so harmful to wildlife, any law enforcement officer in Colorado is authorized by state statute to use whatever force is necessary to stop any dog that is chasing, injuring or killing a wild animal.”
Besides being detrimental to wildlife, dogs who give chase are putting themselves, and often their owners, at risk for injury or potential death.
Velarde stated in the release, “Each year, we investigate numerous incidents in which a person is injured by a wild animal. A common factor in many of these situations is that the victim’s dog first approached and harassed the animal.”
Velarde works in an area of the state more heavily populated with moose, a much more territorial and aggressive animal than deer or elk.
Though aggressive attacks by moose are less likely in Archuleta County, dogs negatively impacting wildlife is a very real local issue.
According to Archuleta County Animal Control Supervisor Chris Crump, dogs chasing wildlife in the area is “a substantial problem.”
Crump figures that local wildlife officers likely receive more reports of dogs giving chase than he does, but Animal Control is responsible for doing more about the animals’ aggressive behavior.
Though Animal Control is responsible for managing aggressive dogs in the area, a dog’s behavior cannot always be actively witnessed or proven by officers.
When aggressive behavior towards wildlife is proven, however, owners could face fines or the very real possibility of losing their pets.
In the past two weeks alone, two dogs from the Cat Creek area were euthanized because of threatening behavior towards wildlife.
Crump also reported receiving multiple calls from residents threatening to shoot dogs chasing wildlife, though he stated that few residents actually carry out that threat.
In order to avoid fines or the loss of beloved pet, CPW recommends that, in areas where encounters with wildlife are likely, keep dogs on a leash or leave them at home.
Keeping your pet on a leash can also help protect them against potentially becoming a meal for mountain lions, coyotes and some bears.
When enjoying the outdoors, be aware of your surroundings. Know which species of wildlife you are likely to run into. Bring along binoculars or a camera lens to observe wildlife from a safe distance.
A good rule of thumb provided by Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Trina Romero: “Remember, if the animal reacts to you or your dog, you are definitely too close.”
Living in a rural area presents an additional challenge for Archuleta County dog owners.
Wildlife such as deer and elk will inevitably wander through residential areas where dogs are kept as pets. As a pet owner, take proper precautions to decrease the chances of a wildlife altercation.
Do not feed wildlife. Aside from song birds, feeding wild animals is illegal in Colorado.
The seed put out for song birds may attract several other wildlife species into your yard, so be sure to suspend bird feeders in places where deer and other wild animals cannot reach them.
Store your garbage in secure metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, and keep it in a garage or shed until it is scheduled for pick up.
Keep pet food inside or stored in a similar manner as garbage.
During warmer months, fence in gardens to keep deer and other animals out. Commercial deer repellent or mixtures containing eggs have also proven successful in keeping deer away.
Taking proper precautions to keep your pets and wildlife separate can not only save you from having to deal with Animal Control, it can save you money.
The CPW warns that, “In Colorado, the fine for knowingly or negligently allowing a dog to harass wildlife is $274, including surcharges.”
To report any instance of dogs chasing wildlife, contact the regional CPW office in Durango at 247-0855, Archuleta Animal Control via dispatch at 731-2160, or Colorado State Patrol.