GC VILLAGE — A pack of wild dogs roaming around the Grand Canyon Village area have killed at least nine deer and are being targeted by park rangers as a safety threat to residents and visitors.
Most stray dogs running loose around the village can be caught and end up at the Grand Canyon Kennel. The wild dogs, however, have eluded rangers. Residential dogs should be caged, on a leash or inside a residence and have tags, such as the dog shown at left.
Rangers have known about the wild dogs for several months through a series of incidents. Two of the dogs have been killed, but three or four others remain.
"We’ve attempted to trap them without success," said acting chief ranger Jim Reilly. "They’re pretty elusive."
The presence of the pack in the residential area has complicated matters for rangers. The dogs cannot simply be shot in such congested areas. Attempts to tranquilize the dogs have proven unsuccessful.
"We will attempt to humanely as possible destroy the animals away from humans," ranger Patrick Hattaway said. "The problem is they’re in this area. Safety is the top concern. If they’re in the village area, we can try to tranquilize them."
The assignment of hunting down wild dogs has not been comfortable for rangers. Hattaway said it’s a tough situation.
"None of my rangers are real happy about destroying a domestic animal," Hattaway said. "It’s something none of us enjoy doing."
The origins of the wild dog pack is guesswork, but it’s possible that it’s the same pack that was roaming in Kaibab National Forest last summer. At the time, law-enforcement officials from various agencies were involved in the search for a missing 13-year-old boy. There were reports of confrontations between the dogs and police in the forest.
The first indication of wild dogs in the park came early last summer when rangers observed a mother dog with three or four puppies. The dogs had been infected with quills, but attempts to capture them were unsuccessful. One tried to bite a wildlife biologist.
The next problems involving the dogs began to appear in Mather Campground.
"We started dealing with them at the campground, they were scrounging around in camps," Hattaway said. "They were taking possession of campsites and wouldn’t back off unless we were aggressive with them. We would get calls from campers. That led to us being more aware."
Also last summer, rangers came across wild dogs shading themselves under vehicles in the National Park Service’s maintenance yard. Hattaway said attempts were made to remove the lead dog with a control stick. While that was going on, the other dogs circled the two rangers in what was beginning to look like an attack.
"That’s when we destroyed the first animal," Hattaway said. "The others took off."
A second dog was captured after being tranquilized and it was later euthanized.
Park Service officials believe the dogs may have been abandoned, possibly left by visitors or former residents. The dogs then became wild.
Hattaway said it doesn’t take much for a wild dog to exhibit behavior similar to that of a wolf.
"Dogs aren’t that far from wolf-like behavior," he said. "They have some of the same tendencies as wolves. It’s easy to evolve into chasing animals in the park."
Hattaway said it became clear that there was a wild dog problem when wildlife began to disappear in December. There were also numerous sightings of the dogs on Bright Angel Trail.
"They were spotted as far down as Phantom," Hattaway said.
On one January day, a ranger tracked the dogs for about four hours on the trail, which is the park’s most traveled route down into the Canyon.
The dogs were sighted at the Bright Angel Trailhead again Wednesday and in Pinon Park on Thursday.
Wildlife biologists have documented at least nine deer kills by the dogs in the park. On top of that, the park’s Elaine Leslie said the simple presence of the pack has been a big stress factor on other types of wildlife.
"Bighorn sheep, they will die just from the stress factor," Leslie said. "They’re concentrating on smaller animals, the habituated deer and the feral pets. They’re easy to pick off."
Leslie said the wild dogs have apparently not had any interaction with mountain lions.
"The mountain lions are reclusive enough … it looks like they’re staying away from that," she said. "A lion will take out a dog. They’re not doing their job right now."
Park Service officials hope residents will take responsibility for their own pets. Last week, the superintendent’s office mailed a notice to residents about the dog problem and reminded them that feral or loose dogs and cats only worsens the situation.
"We’ve tried to send out a stern warning that it’s imperative to control dogs at all times," said Maureen Oltrogge of the park’s public affairs office. "They should be tied up, caged or inside. The concern is that even residential dogs can get caught up in this pack and be a risk."
Leslie said loose dogs and cats have been a problem for several months in the village. Animals are trapped frequently and taken to Flagstaff.