Keep dogs from chasing wildlife
Domestic dogs and wildlife don’t mix.
But it’s not dogs that the Colorado Division of Wildlife officers blame for running at large and harassing wildlife. It’s dog owners.
That’s why the Colorado Division of Wildlife wants to remind dog owners the importance of controlling their pets – and the severe penalties dog owners can incur if it’s determined their domestic animals are disturbing wild animals.
“We’ve had a few instances lately of dogs chasing deer and elk,” said Sonja Marzek, an officer with the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Glenwood Springs. “Dog owners need to be aware they’re risking their pet’s lives if they allow them to harass wildlife.”
Marzek explained that, according to Colorado ordinance, a state peace officer has the right to shoot a dog harassing, chasing or injuring wildlife. Dog owners can also face heavy fines and be held responsible for rehabilitating wildlife injured by dogs.
“In some cases, the dog’s owner can be sued civilly by the people of Colorado for injuring or killing wildlife,” Marzek added.
Marzek said dogs have an instinct to chase moving objects. That’s why something as innocent as a dog chasing a fast-moving rabbit should be discouraged.
If dogs in a neighborhood or rural area are allowed to run free, another problem can occur: pack mentality.
Marzek said once dogs start roaming together, they can form a group mentality, so if one particularly aggressive dog decides to go after a deer, all the dogs, even timid ones, may follow.
“A dog can start off chasing Peter Cottontail, which can seem innocent enough,” she said. “The dog can start off seeing something and chasing it for fun. But a dog chasing a rabbit can lead to chasing bigger animals. And domestic dogs don’t know what to do with an animal once they catch it.”
Because domestic dogs don’t hunt their food like wild predators, they’ll often injure an animal rather than kill it. Worse yet, dogs have been known to eat the hind end of a deer or elk, leaving it to slowly die.
Dogs have an advantage over deer and elk during winter, too.
“When there’s snow on the ground, dogs can chase wildlife on top of the snow, where deer and elk hooves go through the snow,” Marzek said. “It makes wildlife easier for the dogs to catch.”
Even if wildlife aren’t taken down by domestic dogs, chasing can injure or tire a deer or elk, and lead to death.
“During the winter, these wild animals need to conserve their energy,” she said. “Generally, cows are pregnant, with an embryo growing inside.”
And when a dog startles these animals, Marzek said, their fear can literally scare them to death.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife assesses hefty fines to a dog’s owner when they determine a dog has played a role in injuring or killing wildlife.
“If a wildlife or peace officer catches a dog or dogs chasing wildlife, the standard fine is $200 per dog,” Marzek said, “That fine is added on to a surcharge of $74. Not controlling a domestic dog is very expensive.”
And fees go up from there.
“The penalties range from $500 for a bear, to $1,000 for a moose or bighorn sheep,” said Marzek for known cases of a dog or dogs mauling a wild animal. “The penalty for an elk is $700.”
If the animal is injured and is rehabilitated, the dog owner is responsible for those costs, too.
But those dog owners who are simply fined for their dogs have it easy. According to Colorado statute, any peace officer has the right to shoot any dog caught harassing, injuring or killing wildlife.
DOW wants dog owners to know that even if a dog is leashed and somehow chews through his leash, or breaks away from a containment area, that’s no excuse for a dog running loose and harassing wildlife.
“Owning a dog is a responsibility,” Marzek said. “People must take responsibility for their pets. Owners need to know keeping dogs under control is really the lesson here.”
“By nature, dogs are predators. You can’t really blame them for what they do naturally,” said Steve Yamashita, area wildlife manager in Grand Junction. “But you can blame their owners. It’s up to pet owners to contain their animals.”
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