Steamboat Springs Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are cautioning pet owners that in a confrontation with a belligerent moose, a dog may not be your best friend after all.
“In most cases, people walking dogs on a leash should have time to turn around and leave the area,” DOW Area Wildlife Manager Michelle Domson said. “But if you come around a corner and find yourself too close to a moose, I’d let go of the leash.”
What many people do not realize, Domson said, is that moose make no distinction between dogs and the moose’s mortal enemies: wolves.
Their instinctive behavior, particularly in the case of cow moose with calves, is to attack wolves before they are attacked themselves.
There’s also evidence that people accompanied by a dog are perceived as wolves.
Steamboat Springs hasn’t seen a violent moose-human confrontation this year but came close last week when a man out walking his pet called police to ask for a ride away from a neighborhood where a large bull moose was behaving aggressively toward its reflection in a patio door.
“We’ve been lucky so far,” Domson said. “Within the last two weeks, we’ve had six or seven calls from people who had issues with moose, including a couple of people who had dogs on a leash.”
She said she knows about one reported dog fatality in recent years and a second that wasn’t reported.
Moose seem to be more common in Steamboat this winter, but Domson said she thinks the perception is partly a result of the early snow that pushed them out of the forests in search of food. She estimates that about 10 moose are using habitat within the city limits at least part of the time.
“They’ve been pushed a little lower than usual,” Domson said. “Steamboat has a lot of drainages with willows” that moose like to eat.
But it’s plain that more city residents are seeing moose, based on the number of photographs taken from close range that are being posted on Facebook and submitted to the newspaper.
The attraction people feel toward the moose and their desire to get a good photograph are concerning to Domson. Moose tend to behave in a docile manner right until they decide they’re uncomfortable, she said.
Warning signs that a moose is on the verge of becoming aggressive include if the animal is licking its nose, appears to be rolling its eyes or has the hairs on the back of its neck and hump standing out.
Homeowners who treat their pools and hot tubs with mineral salts unwittingly are attracting moose, Domson said. Ungulates, such as moose, need salt in their diets, and she thinks several pools around the Fish Creek Falls Road area are attracting moose because of the use of salts.
Hot tub suppliers are promoting products using mineral salts in lieu of chlorine to keep the acidity of hot tubs in balance.