Dogs Chasing and Harassing Wildlife a Serious Problem
Conservation officers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are receiving a growing number of reports about dogs chasing and harassing deer.
Minnesota DNR Chief Conservation Officer Mike Hamm suggests most dog owners are not aware of what their dogs are up to when the dogs are out roaming. And, he added, they're not being kind to the dog.
Conservation officers believe that people underestimate the potential for their dog to chase wildlife.
"People think it's great that their dogs can run," Hamm said. "But they don't know what the dogs do when they are out of sight. Because the dog is well mannered when the owner is around, the owner underestimates the potential for their pet to chase wildlife."
In reality, the dog is out there doing what dogs do - following a scent and chasing down prey. Single dogs are usually not much of a problem to wildlife, but when they team up with neighbor dogs and form packs, the hunter/killer instinct surfaces and they become a serious threat to wild animals.
Domestic dogs chasing deer is a recurrent problem in Minnesota, according to Hamm. It is particularly hazardous at this time of year - for both the game animals and the dogs.
"Winter is an appropriate time to talk about the problem because big game animals are expending every bit of energy to stay alive and have a difficult time running through deep crusted snow," Hamm said.
Hamm points out that a dog chasing game animals is especially bad for the wildlife when it is cold out. The dog is frisky, full of food and ready to go. However, wildlife is out there 24 hours a day, burning a lot of energy just to stay alive.
"When dogs are loose, they naturally chase the wildlife," Hamm said. "It's devastating what a dog can do to an animal, especially when they kill it. The dogs are usually well fed at home, so most kills are not made because the dogs are hungry, but rather because of instinct and frenzy."
However, dogs do not always kill the animals. Dogs, in their domestication, have lost many of their instincts for making quick kills, and instead chase, harass and terrorize wildlife until the chased animal collapses in exhaustion.
For example, if a dog chases a deer, the dog often does not know what to do with it once the animal is caught. "Wolves are efficient killers, but dogs will bite the nose off and chew ears," Hamm said. "The animal really suffers when the dog is just playing around."
The owner of a dog that kills or pursues a big game animal is guilty of a petty misdemeanor and is subject to a civil penalty of up to $500 for each violation.
According to state law, any conservation officer or peace officer has the option of killing a dog that is caught wounding, killing or pursuing in a manner that endangers a big game animal. In reality, this means the penalty to the dog can be death.
Between Jan. 1 and July 14, a person other than a peace officer or conservation officer may kill the dog. The officer or person is not liable for damages for killing the dog.
"People should be aware if their dog is loose, it could get shot by a neighbor who is unhappy about it running loose," Hamm said. "It may seem immoral, but sometimes people decide to take care of problems themselves. So there is not only a threat to wildlife, but the dog could get shot."
Hamm said that only after all efforts to contact a pet owner have failed would the dog be shot and killed by a conservation officer. "I hate to do it; I love dogs," he said. "I would rather issue a citation to the owner first."
The last thing a conservation officer wants to do is go talk to someone about controlling his or her dog, Hamm said.
"If people make a little extra effort, we wouldn't have these problems," he said. "The DNR doesn't perceive this as a dog problem. We perceive it as a people problem."