Maureen Smilkstein: Dogs threatening

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On Sept. 2, 2007, I was hiking with my two dogs on Rabbit Ears Pass and encountered a pack of guard dogs that approached me in a very threatening manner. I encountered many hikers that day who also had been threatened by the same dogs. Common to all our experiences was the fact that none of us had seen any sheep, and that the dogs had apparently left their flock in order to approach us, and there were no sheep herders in site.

I mention this pertinent fact because these dogs are apparently trained to fend off predators that endanger privately owned sheep, not humans who happen to be in the vast area where the sheep graze.

The next day, Labor Day, a local man, Rob Schoaf, was hiking within a hundred yards of Dumont Lake when, without apparent provocation and threat to any sheep, his pet lab mix was attacked by the same pack of dogs and brutally ripped apart. This attack and killing was accomplished in about a minute. Please visit Steamboatpilot.com and search "Pepper" and you can read the gory details.

The area involved is one of the most popular campsites, biking areas and hiking areas, as well a picnic spot for locals as well as the many tourists who visit our area to enjoy the backcountry. The close proximity to Steamboat makes it ideal for everyone. The dogs responsible are Great Pyrenees dogs, common guard dogs bred to protect sheep from predators.

I am well aware that public lands have been grazed for decades by ranchers, and despite the significant negative environmental impact that sheep pose, I would like to focus on the threat these dogs pose to our families as well as our pets. For the people who think the Great Pyrenees do not present a danger to humans, please read the story in the Vail Daily (July 11, 2008) that describes a brutal attack on a mountain biker participating in a race in the Camp Hale area. A young lady was knocked off her bike, attacked by two of these dogs and likely would have been killed had it not been for the efforts of bystanders as well as other bikers. She was lucky to have sustained only a fractured ankle and 68 stitches. This was one of many attacks to mountain bikers, and apparently the Division of Wildlife continues to turn a blind eye.

I would like to point out that I was born and raised on a farm and am well aware of the many challenges ranchers face each day, with predators, as well as many other factors that most people are unaware of. However, the public lands are paid for by our taxpayer dollars, and should be open to all of us, without the fear of being mauled by privately owned attack dogs. To my knowledge, there are no other circumstances in which vicious dogs are allowed to roam free on public lands. As a matter of fact, the DOW will tell you to keep your pet leashed. Is this not a double standard?

Last week, a friend was hiking on an easement that passed private property and was chased by a mastiff that allegedly was protecting sheep. However, this dog left the private land to attack my friend and his dog. Fortunately, the man was armed and able to fend of this attack.

I would hate to see the day that people feel the need to carry a weapon for protection while enjoying a hike or bike ride, but that seems to be the only alternative besides staying off our mutually owned public lands. I would like to hear comments from others who may have had similar encounters, as well as possible solutions.

Maureen Smilkstein

Steamboat Springs

Comments

Duke_bets 5 years, 7 months ago

windle - I don't really care about your AKC standard. A 65 pound lab is most definitely a female with poor blood lines. If an 85 pound lab is your standard male, that is also extremely poor blood lines. The dad of my black lab averaged a weight of 125 in an 11 year life and was in primo shape. The mom was about 80. Mine is 135 to 145 when he's not running on a daily basis. And, during pheasant season, he'll weigh 120-130 like he does now and out run and swim most, if not all, hunting dogs that I have come across in his 8 years of life.

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Duke_bets 5 years, 7 months ago

windle - Your last sentence is unwarranted and reflects your true character. And, I've yet to fear a hound of any breed or size.

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papafu 5 years, 7 months ago

Randy--thanks so much for your quick response to clear up the question as to who is responsible for regulating the sheep herds, etc. Hopefully there will be a response from the Forest Service to let the public know what is being done to provide for the safety of all.

Duke--just to set the record straight. Do you really believe it is OK for these sheep dogs to provoke, threaten or attack people who are using public lands and who are not approaching, threatening or bothering the sheep herd?

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Oscar 5 years, 7 months ago

Maureen, Thanks for your letter once again highlighting this important issue. I too have been threatened by those vicious sheep dogs while hiking near Dumont and on the upper portion of Spring Creek near Dry Lake Campground. There is absolutely no excuse why Erik Taylor, who handles sheep grazing contracts for the Forest Service can't keep sheep away from these two of the most popular places for human activity in all of Routt NF, especially when it has been brought to his attention several times including the tragic and fatal attack on a pet dog last summer. With as large an area as Routt NF covers, there simply has to be some other places where they can put sheep during the summer. How can it be that the benefits to this one sheep rancher far out weigh the safety and enjoyment of many hundreds of other folks trying to recreate safely in these two areas of our NF? It simply does not make good sense.

Sadly enough, I am now forced to carry a pistol with me when I hike in these two poplular places in order to protect myself and my dog.

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Jason Krueger 5 years, 7 months ago

Maureen and Oscar,

I completely agree. There have been a couple of instances on the ski area this summer regarding sheep dogs as well. Would definitely like to see better management of these animals especially in higher traffic areas such as Dumont Lake and the ski area.

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Duke_bets 5 years, 7 months ago

Maureen - Several questions..........."A pack of guard dogs", please elaborate. Was there 10-30 dogs or 2-3? "None had seen any sheep", are you sure? Was "pepper" on a leash or was he an untrained / unleashed puppy that disobeyed his owners' commands and ran off? Can a person not find better places to hike than easements that run through private property? Who was armed with what, and fended off a vicious attack? I'm sure that would have made headlines. Your story seems to be exactly that................A story. With embellishments of political proportions.

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Duke_bets 5 years, 7 months ago

Last comment - If you're going to hike and bike in the wilderness, you should be prepared. Believe it or not, sheep dogs are not the danger in those expeditions.

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Jason Krueger 5 years, 7 months ago

Duke- First of all, the areas in question are not wilderness; they are National Forest. Second, these areas are heavily traveled. I have encountered sheep dogs numerous times on Rabbit Ears pass usually in groups of 2 or 3. I had no idea these day trips were "expeditions" (wow, I feel sooo extreme!) Having encountered bear, moose, and vicious squirrels there is certainly a greater danger in encountering these dogs than any "wild" animal. These aren't easements that run through private property, they are massive expanses of land. Her point is (not to put words into her mouth) it seems like the ranchers and the National Forest are asking for trouble allowing these guard dogs in such close proximity to heavily traveled public lands. I doubt this discussion would be occurring if these events had taken place in remote regions of the forest but I would hardly call Dumont Lake or the Ferndale picnic grounds, two area where I HAVE encountered sheep dogs, areas of remote "wilderness".

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Randy Hampton 5 years, 7 months ago

All,

On behalf of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, I felt it appropriate to add a brief note here on the site. The DOW is not 'turning a blind eye' as this letter suggests. The DOW has absolutely nothing to do with regulation of sheep grazing, sheep herding, sheep herders or sheep dogs. The appropriate agency to address these issues would be the US Forest Service (who issues grazing permits on public lands) or the local sheriff's department (who can address threats to public safety posed by a private land activity).

If it comes to anyone's attention that the BIGHORN sheep are hiring packs of aggressive dogs, please get back with us as it will then be 'our' problem.

Good luck and safe recreation, Randy Hampton Public Information Officer Colorado Division of Wildlife, Northwest Region

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Duke_bets 5 years, 7 months ago

Jason - Please point out where I used the word 'expedition'......I believe I said hike. Secondly, what is the difference between wilderness and forest? Lastly, do you actually believe dogs are more vicious than bears? If so, you should stay out of the forest because your take on wildlife is skewed.

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Duke_bets 5 years, 7 months ago

Jason - My apologies............I did use the word expeditions.

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Duke_bets 5 years, 7 months ago

windle - I know plenty about large dogs and the breeds that protect sheep. I personally own a pure bred male black lab that pushes 145 pounds. During hunting season, he slims down to about 125 and still would laugh at a pyrenees.

If you open the gate and walk through my yard, good luck. My point is that if you knowingly put yourself in harm's way, you should probably have a way to protect yourself from dangers that you know are lurking.

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