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.