Dogs Harassing Colorado Big Game

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Dogs are harassing big game animals in southwest Colorado this winter and Division of Wildlife officials are reminding pet owners to keep their animals under control.

At least two elk died as a result of being chased and injured by dogs near Durango and Bayfield; dogs have chased bighorn sheep in the Almont Triangle area near Gunnison; deer have been harassed near Creede and within the city limits of Durango; and deer and elk have been chased in the Montrose area.

Dogs chasing wildlife is a perennial problem throughout Colorado, but an abundance of snow in the southwest corner of the state is causing additional problems this winter. Deep snow with a crusty surface is making travel difficult for deer and elk. Unlike hoofed animals, dogs can run on top of the crusty snow and are easily chasing down the large animals, said Patt Dorsey, area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Durango.

"Some people think their dog would never chase wildlife. But when dogs see deer or elk they may act on their natural instincts and give chase," Dorsey said.

During winter, deer and elk expend large amounts of energy to stay alive - they can lose 30 percent or more of their body weight during the cold months. When big game animals are forced to run they become exhausted and use up valuable calories they need to stay alive. In addition, many female deer and elk are pregnant and especially need to conserve energy.

Pet owners can be fined up to $275 for allowing their animals to chase wildlife. A pet owner in the Vallecito Reservoir area was fined that amount after her two dogs chased down and injured an elk calf on Feb. 7.

Dogs observed chasing wildlife can be shot by law enforcement officers or landowners.

"Dogs chase wildlife year around, but it is more of a problem during the winter when deer and elk are vulnerable. It's difficult for them to move through the snow and the nutritious green plants are gone. Deer and elk have been losing weight since November," Dorsey said. "Keep your pets indoors, secured in a pen or under strict voice control."

Cats also cause problems because they kill birds. Cat owners should put a bell on pets' collars and limit the amount of time their cats spend outdoors during the day.

Anyone who sees dogs chasing wildlife should call the local Colorado Division of Wildlife office, local animal control or other local law enforcement agencies.