Dog’s Eye View: Moose on the loose in Steamboat
I was motivated to write this after a close encounter with a moose last week. I was doing a house call visit for one of my favorite patients, Sparky, a beautiful Bernese Mountain dog who really enjoys his cold laser treatments for his arthritis. It was a nice evening, and Sparky was outside on the back patio, so we decided we would do his treatment back there. Sparky’s owner said she hadn’t seen a moose in six weeks, although we both knew they would occasionally come through the backyard. The three of us were sitting on the ground, all with our protective goggles on, doing the laser treatment when the moose appeared behind me in the bushes. I have to admit I did exactly what you’re not supposed to do and jumped up quickly to turn around when the owner said, “there’s a moose behind you.” The owner stayed quiet, as did Sparky. We were out in the open without any cover. Luckily, Sparky had his goggles on and was facing the other way, so he couldn’t see the moose until it was well past us. This moose was scared and ran straight by us without incident. Sparky did give it a bark after he saw it running out of his backyard, but the moose was intent on vacating the area. We assumed something bigger was probably chasing it and moved the cold laser session inside.
Just this week, there was a moose on the core trail bike path near my house, as well as in the field right behind Pet Kare Clinic. You may remember, at the end of February, a woman was trampled by a moose at Storm Mountain Ranch. That moose had been spooked by something and just ran over everything in it’s escape path. We are now having daily moose sightings in town. In addition, this is the time of year when moose have their calves and are especially protective. It’s a good time to remind everybody how to avoid a moose encounter and what you need to know if you ever experience one.
Dog owners especially need to be aware. Many moose encounters are related to dogs. Even if your dog is by your side, quiet and not chasing the moose, it is a direct threat to the moose. Moose are used to coyotes attacking their young, so they will automatically perceive your harmless dog as a serious threat. Moose are naturally more protective in early summer when they have calves and in fall when they are mating. You do not want to make a momma moose mad. Moose are becoming more common in and around town and are becoming more competitive for habitat as their numbers increase. Moose may appear 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 towards 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, so back away as slowly and as quietly as possible. Making a lot of noise, yelling at your dogs and moving quickly will only escalate the situation. Barking dogs will make matters even worse. Try to get out of the moose’s line of sight and put something between you and the animal. Get behind a tree or large rock. Like 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 to entirely avoid an encounter by having your dogs on leash or reliably under voice control and paying attention to your surroundings as you are walking. Look for moose tracks in the mud or snow. You can 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.
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Lastly, spread the word when you see people out on trails. There are still many people who don’t know moose behavior, and the novelty of seeing a moose may make them do stupid things (like trying to get a cool picture for Facebook). A moose walking slowly toward people may appear to be curious, but this behavior is actually a sign that it perceives the people as a threat. Let people know 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.
Dr. Paige Lorimer is a Colorado native and a veterinarian at Pet Kare Clinic.
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