Parks are like small cities, and just about any aspect of city life will happen in some form in a park.
Love? Have you seen the abundance of proposal pictures set amidst the backdrops of America’s most iconic landscapes? Eating, drinking, sleeping, should be obvious – for humans as well as wildlife. How about bathroom cleaning and garbage trucks collecting refuse? You *might* have to get to a visitor center early in the morning, but I can promise those happen things happen too.
So it doesn’t shock me that we have an abandoned dog roaming out site. Rangers find animals, especially dogs, many times a year in most parks. Abandoned pets in the National Parks are not a rare occurrence.
Our present situation involves a female sheep dog. She doesn’t have a collar, but it is a female. She has figured out that a good place to spend the night is the patch of grass under the picnic table outside of our maintenance building. She is very skittish and generally doesn’t approach people. She runs away when we try to talk to her, but comes back after a while. Mostly, she stands at a distance of maybe 15-20 feet and barks a lot. She wags her tail readily, but will not approach. I think she is scared, as if she is used to a bit of abuse.
We have a couple of local sheep ranchers who have many such dogs. To them, these dogs are tools. They are left outdoors with the sheep (which is to be expected), but what I didn’t quite understand is that these dogs are NOT fed. The dogs learn to hunt smaller mammals like rabbits or squirrels for food if they are to survive. And if the female dogs get pregnant, or any dog gets too old or injured to keep up with the flock, the dog is simply abandoned wherever.
A tool that is no longer useful is thrown away.
Sounds just like any other aspect of our throw-away society.
Except is it?
The dog showed up on our property a couple of weeks ago. Some time after a certain rancher moved more than 600 head of sheep from BLM-managed grazing land, through the national monument (where I work), out to the county road for pick up and transport elsewhere. One of the days this flock movement occurred, I watched for a little bit. There were cowboys on horseback and four dogs running around.
So is our new friend one of that pack? Well, I didn’t get pictures that day. I called the ranchers on the sheep permit to see if they lost a dog. I called – and left voice mail messages – twice, in my professional capacity from my office. No one ever called me back.
Park staff – and a local hunter on his way to finding elk on BLM lands – snapped a few pictures and posted on the local town’s Facebook group. Our staff didn’t mention names in our postings, as we didn’t have 100% proof of where the dog came from. However, when the hunter made his post on Facebook, people responded to it saying that the dog belonged to the same rancher we suspected. Again, that particular family never responded to the Facebook posts either.
This time, people suggested the dog looked either like she was pregnant or had just whelped. We haven’t seen signs of any pups, but she makes a daily trek up the park road about 7:30 a.m. and is back in the maintenance yard by about Noon. Every day.
Some of my readers might wonder why we don’t call the local animal control or the county sheriff. The latter has said he can’t help, since the dog hasn’t harmed anyone, and we don’t have a local animal control. This is rural Wyoming. My NPS unit is small enough that we do not have a law enforcement ranger on staff (although Grand Teton said they’d send down and LE ranger if there was an actual incident where the dog became aggressive towards anyone), and the local BLM agent is too busy with hunting season. Tranquilization is a possibility, but one that we’d like to avoid is possible, since the dog isn’t aggressive.
One of our park staff thinks the dog was abandoned and the family won’t claim it because they don’t want the responsibility. He pointed out that when a sheep gets left behind and we call about it, the rancher never comes back. They just declare a loss and expect the BLM to compensate them. Whatever happens to the sheep or cows? We see them wandering for days or weeks. Either they die or some lucky person comes in the middle of the night for a free bit of livestock. (You can imagine how I feel about that program that offers payment for lack of responsibility.)
Anyway, so we have Doggie now taking up residence in our maintenance yard. No one will claim her. We have one man from town who has rescued other dogs in past situations that were similar. Problem is that Doggie is scared and won’t approach people. She just runs away. We are trying to train her that people can be nice – several of us have successfully left food on the ground that she eventually gobbles down.
Yesterday was my turn. I have never had a pet, and my current apartment lease does not allow pets, so she won’t be mine. However, my heart went out to her. She seems like she wants to talk to people and be around people, but she’s scared. Like really scared. I really do think she was treated badly at some point. So yesterday, after the morning snowstorm passed through, I drove out to the park and brought her some food. A container of leftover pizza crusts with cheese and a bag of Beggin’ Strips (which my parents’ dog LOVES). I figured yummy treats were going to be tasty and win me a few points with Doggie.
She was lying under the porch of park housing next door, but immediately got up and ran behind maintenance when I pulled my car in the driveway. I approached the maintenance yard through the open gate near the back so as not to unlock the front gate (since Saturday is outside of business hours). She ran to the back of the building, and then back out through the gate as I followed her route around maintenance. Eventually, I just held my ground and she circled back, standing at a distance of maybe 30 feet for a good five minutes. I tried talking to her the whole time.
I opened my container of pizza crusts and tossed one on the ground in between us. She didn’t move. After a while, I guess she learned I wasn’t going to hurt her. I was standing right next to the picnic table where she slept. I tossed a second piece of pizza crust on the ground. She still didn’t go after it. But when I got the third one close enough to her (she had walked a bit towards me), she sniffed it and ate it in one bite. I walked a few steps and picked up the crusts from the ground. I tossed one closer to her and she ate it. I did the same with a Beggin Strip. She really liked that treat. So I crumbled up a second strip and sprinkled the pieces on the ground in front of me. She sniffed around and got the bigger pieces. Then she ate another piece of crust. Finally, I left another Beggin Strip on the picnic bench next to me. She came up and snatched it, but moved back about 10 feet to eat it. Then she sniffed around in the grass until she found the last few crumbs from earlier.
She never came close enough that I could pet her. (She did take one milk bone from the rescue guy on Friday before running away from him too.) We don’t know if she’s sick – rabies is always a possibility out here – but she isn’t aggressive towards us. Quite the opposite. She has a tiny limp, but she obviously walks a lot, even around our property. I kind of wonder if the puppy situation is a possibility. Who knows?
I didn’t go out to work today, so I don’t know today’s action. I think one of my coworkers was going to try to give her a snack today. Tomorrow (Monday), the guy who rescues dogs is going to come back out and try to feed her again. We’re hoping that if she learns to trust us, we’ll eventually be able to get her to a vet to get checked out and adopted.