Dog’s Eye View: Moose on the loose
February 18, 2016
Let's face it, Steamboat: Moose are here to stay, and dangerous interactions are now a reality year-round. Last week, there was a frightening moose encounter on Spring Creek trail. Luckily nobody was injured. At Pet Kare Clinic this winter, we have treated dogs injured by moose attacks.
In the past year we saw a dog that died from a moose attack that occurred in it's own yard. That was heartbreaking to see and something none of us will ever forget. Though moose are less aggressive this time of the year, the deep snow forces them onto cleared pathways, streets and trails, making interactions more common.
While it's true that many moose encounters involve dogs, some do not. You may remember one year ago this February, a woman was trampled by a moose at Storm Mountain Ranch and suffered serious injuries. That moose had been spooked by something and just ran into everything in its path.
Last June, I was doing a house call treatment in a client's backyard and had a moose run by me within a few feet, scared, most likely, by another moose.
During mating season this fall, I saw people venturing within 10 yards of moose that were showing obvious signs of annoyance and a readiness to charge. I hope that picture was worth it.
As dog owners, we need to be more responsible and educate people who may not understand moose behavior. It's a good time to remind everybody how to avoid a moose encounter and what you need to know if you have an unavoidable moose encounter.
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Dog owners especially need to be aware, as many moose encounters are related to dogs. Even if your dog is right by your side, quiet and not chasing the moose, it is perceived as a direct threat to the moose. Moose are accustomed to coyotes attacking their young, so they will automatically perceive your harmless dog as a serious threat.
Moose are naturally more protective during early summer, when they have their calves, and fall, when they are mating. Do not make a mother moose mad.
Moose are becoming more common in, and across town and more competitive for habitat as their numbers increase. Moose may look slow and gentle, but in Glacier National Park, moose are considered more dangerous than grizzly bears. They can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and being trampled by a moose is about the same as being hit by a car.
Moose will charge anytime they feel threatened, so you must avoid provoking them in any way. A threatened moose may throw its head back and forth, stomp its feet and hold its ears back. It may also make grunting noises. If a moose begins walking toward you, it perceives you as a threat, and you need to be ready for an attack.
Your goal is to show the moose you are not a threat. If you encounter a moose, back away slowly and as quietly as possible. Making a lot of noise, yelling at your dogs and moving quickly will escalate the situation. Barking dogs will make it worse. Try to get out of the moose's line of sight and put something between you and the moose. Get behind a tree or large rock.
Similar to grizzly bears, most moose charges are bluffs. They simply want you out of their area. If you are in an open area and the moose attacks you, feign death by curling into a ball, and protect your head and neck from hoof strikes as much as possible.
Better yet, entirely avoid an encounter by having your dogs on leash or reliably voice controlled and pay attention to your surroundings as you are walking. Look for moose tracks in the mud or snow. You often see signs and spot them from far off, avoiding an encounter well in advance.
Also, remember moose can be found lying down in cover, and the last thing you want to do is surprise them. Having your dog wear bear bells and making noise as you walk may help, too.
This is a good time to ask yourself if your dog is reliably trained to be off-leash. Will your dog come to your side immediately with a quick whistle or call? If not, keep your dog on a leash and pay attention to your surroundings.
Finally, spread the word when you see people out on trails. Many people are still unfamiliar with moose behavior, and the novelty of seeing a moose may make them do foolish things such as trying to get a cool picture for Facebook.
A moose walking slowly toward people may appear to be curious, but it's actually a sign the animal perceives the people as a threat. Let people know that the situation is serious and not a picture-worthy moment.
The moose are just being moose. Let's give them a wide berth and keep everybody safe.
Paige Lorimer is a veterinarian at Pet Kare Clinic. Visit the clinic's website at petkareclinic.com.
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