The message is quite simple -- if you love your dog then keep it safe by keeping it home.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is sending out a warning that this year there will be a zero-tolerance policy on any dog that chases, attacks or harasses a wild animal in any way.
"What that means is that if a dog is seen free-ranging in a known caribou calving area, or if they are seen actually chasing or in any other way harassing an animal, we are authorized to destroy the dogs and will," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with Fish and Game. "There has always been zero tolerance, but we are going to make a point of that this year."
Due to the natural instinct that most dogs have to chase, Lewis said, moose and caribou calves are susceptible to dogs bites and even playful nipping that incidentally causes puncture wounds.
"People just don't understand what happens. When calves are bit, they die," Lewis said. "They do not survive. Even playing, dogs chase caribou and moose calves and run them until they are exhausted, and even the smallest puncture wound can be deadly."
Lewis said dogs pose a serious threat to the well-being of a moose or caribou calf and even an adult animal.
"Sunday night I was called out by trooper dispatch because of a report of dogs harassing a caribou," he said. "When I got there, the dogs were gone but the caribou had fallen on the ice, splitting her hips. It was apparent that the dogs had attacked this animal because it has severe wounds and it looked as though the dogs had feasted on it."
Lewis said he had no choice but to put the animal down, losing a valued animal because it was collared and because it was carrying a calf.
"This was a collared research animal," Lewis said. "We lost two caribou in a sense and the information we would have gained from it."
Fish and Game has asked that dog owners keep their pets home for four weeks -- from the middle of May to the middle of June.
"I know people don't like keeping their dogs on chains or in restraints," Lewis said. "They have to realize that four weeks is a relatively short time, and it gives the calves a chance to get their feet underneath them. Keeping your dog at home for four weeks makes all the difference in the world."
Lewis said Fish and Game will put down the dogs as humanely as possible and make an effort to notify the animal's owner.
"We shoot them," he said. "I make a reasonable effort to notify the owner. It isn't a pleasant part of my job, and I don't enjoy doing it. My position here mandates that I protect wildlife resources, and I will do that."
There are fairly simple ways to keep dogs safe and away from the temptations of chasing another animal.
"If you're going to leave for the day, don't leave the your dog out running loose to fend for itself," Lewis said. "When you are walking your dog, keep it on a leash and it will make a difference."
Many people couldn't possibly imagine their pets attacking a defenseless moose, but Lewis said that is the biggest surprise of all.
"Several times I have had people call me and say they are out walking with their dog when it stops, turns, hits the woods and bites a calf," he said. "Here it is: 'I am so sorry, I did not know my dog would do that.'
"No one thinks it is their dog, but it can be."
Lewis said it's not just Fish and Game officials who are authorized to take down a dog harassing or attacking another animal.
"There is actually a state statue that allows any person to lawfully kill a dog if its disposition makes it capable of killing an animal ... or if it is in the act of or is habitually harassing an animal," Lewis said. "If they know the owner, they should make an effort to notify them so they can stop their dogs. But if I see it, I am going to stop the dog."
For dog owners who let their pets run loose, the message is a clear one: Any dogs seen chasing, harassing or attacking another animal will be put down under Fish and Game's zero-tolerance practice.
"The surest way to make sure your dog comes back at night is to not let it run free," Lewis said. "We just want to educate people about what their dogs are doing. We don't enjoy doing this. It is part of our jobs."
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