Mongo the Moose has his own personal snack stand in Old Town Kenai. Or at least he did, until the Kenai Police Department put the kibosh on his junk food supply.
Up until a month ago, the one-year-old male moose could wander over to Frank Roach's yard, tap on the window with his fuzzy brown snout, and receive a wealth of tasty goodies: corn dogs, trail mix, beef jerky, tortillas, cookies, Ramen noodles. Basically the staple cuisine of any broke college kid.
Roach, a 51-year-old man who lives alone in a tiny apartment on Broad Street, said Mongo's favorite food is Ritz crackers, sometimes with peanut butter on top.
"He likes that buttery flavor," agreed Randy Gale, Roach's 46-year-old neighbor who has also become quite fond of Mongo.
Roach witnessed Mongo's birth in some nearby woods about a year ago, and the baby moose and his mother soon became permanent fixtures in the neighborhood. Roach said he never fed the cow or her calf until a couple months ago, when Mongo's mother disappeared.
"I felt sorry for Mongo because he was so hungry," Roach explained, speculating that his mother either cut him loose or died.
Mongo frequently camps out in Roach's yard in front of a dilapidated white truck, ambling over to the window whenever he gets a craving for a cracker. Roach says he knows Mongo's temperament better than anyone; that he knows exactly where to pet him, and when it's OK to let Mongo give him a kiss, i.e. a lick on the face.
More than a dozen videos featuring Mongo have found their way on to YouTube thanks to Roach, with titles reminiscent of children's books: "Mongo Gets Comfy for a Cookie," "Mongo the Mexican Moose Eating Tortillas," "Feeding Mongo the Moose Some Tasty Peanut Butter." At certain points in the videos, Mongo can be seen sticking his entire head in the kitchen window, sniffing around for treats while Roach affectionately chats with him like most people chat with a beloved dog.
But now, much to Roach's dismay, Mongo has been put on an involuntary diet. Last month, Kenai Police Officer Todd Hamilton issued Roach a citation for feeding game, which carries a $300 fine and a $10 surcharge. He contested the ticket, pleading not guilty.
At Roach's minor offense trial last Thursday, Hamilton testified that in late February the police department received three or four complaints about an aggressive moose near Broad Street; at one point Hamilton even had to go out there and pepper spray the moose. Hamilton spoke to people living in the neighborhood and discovered that Roach was notorious for feeding a moose out of his window. When confronted, Roach admitted it, and Hamilton issued the citation.
"I'm not paying it," Roach avowed, maintaining he didn't do anything wrong. "I told the judge I'm not paying. If you find me guilty in any court, I will continue to appeal it."
And Judge Matthew Christian did find him guilty on Thursday, despite Roach's defense, which included the assertion that a baby moose doesn't constitute "game," since they cannot be legally hunted, and therefore writing him a ticket for "feeding of game" is ridiculous.
Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, politely called this line of reasoning "completely incorrect," pointing to an Alaska statute which defines game as "any species of bird, reptile, and mammal, including a feral domestic animal, found or introduced in the state, except domestic birds and mammals."
Lewis said Roach got off lucky, as the $310 ticket is for negligent feeding, as opposed to intentional feeding, which is a Class A misdemeanor. And really, how does it get any more intentional than hand-feeding a moose corn dogs?
"Sometimes people feel like they're helping the animal," Lewis speculated, which is almost certainly the case with Roach, "but what they're actually doing in many cases is signing a death warrant for that animal because of the process of food conditioning and human habituation."
What it comes down to is safety, Lewis said. Now that Mongo associates food with people, he will expect all humans to provide him with cookies and peanut butter, and when they don't deliver, he might not react so well.
"As that animal becomes more and more human habituated, its personal space becomes smaller and it tolerates closer proximity to people," Lewis said. "And again, they're wild animals. You never know what's going to push their button at any given moment. Bad things can happen. People can be injured or worse."
The thing is, Roach really does believe he was helping a starving baby moose survive the harsh winter without his mother. He wasn't trying to hurt Mongo, or hurt anyone else by extension, and Lewis understands that. But it still doesn't make his actions right.
"He may have had the best of intentions," Lewis acknowledged. "His heart may have been in the right place. But it's illegal and it's not good for the long-term health of that animal."
Roach said it will takes years of litigation before he forks over the $310 the court has ordered him to pay.
"I fed a baby that needed to be fed," he stated, pulling out a fat blue packet of appeals papers. "I'm never going to pay this ticket. If it takes 10 years, I will never pay this ticket."
In the meantime, he won't feed Mongo, and hasn't since he received the citation. He's not that kind of guy. Still, every couple of days Mongo will trundle over expectantly, poke his head through the window, and lick up the crumbs that remain on the sill.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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