23 bunnies dead in canine killing spree

Loose dogs bad news for rabbits

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2001

Killers are on the loose in some Kenai Peninsula neighborhoods: canine killers.

Many families are in denial. They fail to tie or fence their dogs. They refuse to believe that their gentle four-legged friends may be destroying wildlife and livestock.

Maybe they will believe it when Rover never returns home, or when they get a visit from the Alaska State Troopers, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or someone like Pat Lytle.

Lytle woke up Sunday morning to a nightmare at her home south of Soldotna.

Two dogs were inside her fence slaughtering rabbits in a blood frenzy. The dogs had broken through two sets of fences. They wriggled between boards, pulled apart wire fencing, wrenched hutches off their supports and bashed through heavy-wire cages to get at the defenseless animals inside. As they killed each one, they flung it aside without eating any and went after the next.

"They literally ripped the gate off its hinges," she said. "There were just dead rabbits everywhere. It happened while we were home, and we never heard a thing."

As she noticed what was happening and rushed out, one of the dogs sailed over the fence. The other she nearly caught, but the frantic animal ripped through the fence and escaped.

"That dog had a rabbit pinned down and was killing it when I came out," she said.

Lytle is heartbroken. She is also furious and determined to take action. She said she got a good look at both dogs, is working with troopers, is searching for the dogs' homes and plans to take legal action against their owners.

She and her family run Roughy Road Rabbitry, breeding and showing registered purebred rabbits. The dogs killed 23 pedigreed animals, half her stock.

"This isn't little $5 bunnies," she said.

"The majority of my adult breeders were wiped out. I have about a dozen left. ... The ones that died were proven champion animals. ... Four of the dead ones were pregnant."

Lytle estimated the monetary loss at $2,535. But she has lost more than money.

Hardest hit was a line of purebred mini lops, a breed of cuddly little rabbits bred as pets, that she had been developing for 11 years. She and her daughter, Kay, had planned to take their mini lops to a national rabbit convention in San Diego in November.

"And now they are gone," she said.

"I'm missing my best. It will take years to work my way back up to where I was."

Destructive dogs are a constant concern on the Kenai Peninsula, said Ted Spraker, area game biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna. The wayward pets take a toll on wildlife as well as on small or young pets and livestock.

This year, the state has put out the word that it is cracking down on roaming dogs and will shoot on sight any seen harassing wildlife.

Spraker that 20 to 30 dogs on the central peninsula have been killed so far this year. Most were chasing moose calves.

"We are very serious about shooting free-ranging dogs that are chasing wildlife," he said.

The areas with the most problems, he said, are Gaswell, Echo Lake and Marathon roads, where dogs from Kenai check out the caribou calving grounds.

People seem to be more aware of the problem than they used to be, but Spraker remains concerned about the attitudes of pet owners.

Some people remain naive of the fact that dogs often change their behavior in a group. One or two dogs will go out looking for action; others follow along, get caught up in the excitement and end up doing things they would never do on their own.

"The pack mentality builds," he said. "It's kind of a shark feeding frenzy.

"It is tough to get people to take responsibility for their pets," he said. "Excuses just run rampant."

Some people tell him that their dogs are so gentle they could not possibly harm other animals. Or that they moved to Alaska so Rover could be free to rove.

Spraker said he responds by reminding people that authorities have the right to shoot their dogs dead.

So do other animal owners.

"Usually it's neighbors shooting neighbors' dogs," he said.

Friendships can be ruined; tensions can rise and spin off other problems.

"All preventable," he added sadly.

Tuesday, Lytle had cleaned up the damage, put the surviving rabbits in the intact hutches and placed orphaned babies with foster mothers. After a nearly sleepless night worrying that the dogs might return, she was preparing to drive the nearby country roads again searching for them.

She noted that other people in the area have vulnerable livestock.

"Two miles down from me is Barb Kraxberger, and she raises sheep. What if they end up down there? She has thousands of dollars worth of sheep over there."

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