Editor's note: Lori Paul is a Millard Canyon resident, active with the Altadena Crest Trail Restoration Working Group, and a long-time trails advocate and defender. She recently sent out an email about the July 2 incident where a deer had to be put down because of wounds suffered in an encounter with an unleashed dog at the Millard Canyon campground. She followed that up with an email to us when we asked to reprint it, elaborating on the problem of dogs in the canyons and at Hahamongna Watershed Park. We’ve incorporated both emails in the following article.
by Lori Paul
A local hiker who walks her uncontrolled dogs off-leash... in spite of repeated admonitions not to do so... caused the death of a possibly pregnant doe deer up in Millard Canyon this week. The incident occurred near the campground in the area below the parking lot.
The hiker's large male dog attacked a resident doe, deeply lacerating her neck and causing other injuries, including what appeared to be a broken leg. California Depatmen. of Fish & Wildlife officers were called to assist the incapacitated and suffering doe. They determined that she could not survive the severe injuries and shot her. This was an incredibly sad and preventable death.
This tragedy is what results when poorly trained dogs are allowed to run off-leash and out of restraint by their owners. This same hiker's dog ran off on another occasion, accosted a rattlesnake, and got struck. It is unknown if the snake survived injuries inflicted by the dog.
Dogs gone wild
A few years ago, I noticed a male malamute running, without his owner in sight, on the Gabrielino Trail. The malamute ran past me and right up to a well-behaved Siberian Husky on leash... then attacked the other dog! The owner of the Siberian was in a panic, pulling back his dog, blood everywhere. I got off my bike, ran over, grabbed the malamute by his collar and we separated the two dogs. Both had bad bites on their faces and paws.
I marched the now passive malamute over into the nearby creek to cool him off and rinse his wounds. Fortunately, a passing USFS Ranger in a truck stopped and took custody of the malamute. I then rendered first aid to the badly bitten husky.
Both dogs survived... this time. If the victim had been a small dog instead of a sturdy husky, the outcome might've been different. The ranger later told me that he had encountered the malamute's owner, carrying the dog's leash, one quarter mile. down the trail from the incident. The owner was cited by the USFS officer.
On May 21, I watched helplessly as a large male greyhound killed a baby squirrel. He was one of two greyhounds accompanying two ladies in Hahamongna Watershed Park. The unrestrained, excitable male greyhound ran down the trail and into the bushes where he grabbed the tiny ground squirrel by the head, shook it violently, then dropped his "toy" and returned to the two women I'd been conversing with about the dogs! All this happened in a few seconds, while they ineffectually hollered at the dog to "Stop! Come back here! No No NO!" The greyhound simply ignored them. By the time I reached the baby squirrel, it had died. Unfortunately, the two hikers had the attitude "Oh well, That's just what dogs do..."
No, that is what untrained, uncontrolled dogs do. Wild predators eat what they kill. Dogs kill for fun. The greyhound just left the little squirrel laying in the dirt.
On June 15 I watched a black dog and his brown pitbull companion chase a young buck off the Altadena Crest Trail in Rubio Canyon down a very steep slope. The deer almost fell into the canyon trying to get away. Again, the owners of the dog on the trail above yelled for their off-leash dogs to stop and come back... to no avail. I was across the ravine and could not help the deer, who barely escaped being mauled. The only consolation is that the two large dogs had chased the deer through a dense patch of poison oak, then returned to their owners.
Not only dogs, but their owners
This is a significant problem. I've gotten corroborating responses from a few people about being accosted themselves by dogs, only to be blamed by the dog's owner for somehow inciting the encounter. Like some parents who rationalize their child's misbehavior, blind to the facts, many dog owners are the same.
Dogs, like the people who own them, are visitors to a wild world where survival is already a challenge for deer, ground-nesting birds, chipmunks and squirrels, frogs, lizards, and many other species. They should behave as guests, not as marauders .
It is ironic that so many visitors are terribly afraid of mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and bears... or rattlesnakes and scorpions... when the vast majority of serious bites and fatalities are caused by domestic dogs.
Below are two responses I've received following the incident with the deer:
Sadly, more than once while volunteering with the Forest Service I've worked crowd control on a helicopter landing zone that was to airlift small children mauled by unleashed dogs. I've also had to tell people to leash their dogs on countless occasions, and almost universally those people become agitated and aggressive.
What a horrible set of incidents. I was in Bailey Canyon Park once when an off-leash dog ran towards me in a menacing manner. The owner said the problem was my fault because I had an attitude!
Who to call
USFS regulations require all dogs in Angeles National Forest to be on leash or under immediate control of their owners... like the white chihuahua recently seen riding in a saddlebag on horse. Dogs running out of sight and out of control of their owners harass, injure and kill wildlife. Undisciplined dogs can knock children down, attack other dogs on the trail, jump up on hikers (often with muddy paws), startle horses, and even steal food. I watched a hyper black lab in Millard Canyon campground run wild among the tents, then jump up and grab a chicken sandwich right off a picnic table in front of an astonished camper.
If you see someone with an uncontrolled dog or dogs running off-leash, please politely speak up and tell them to retrieve and control their animal. If they are unresponsive and you believe that wildlife, trail users, other dogs or horses are at risk, contact authorities. Be prepared to give a description of the dog(s), the owners, and exact location. If safe to do so, take a photo with smart phone or camera.
1.) Altadena Sheriffs 626 798.1131 (they can respond to the scene fastest near urban areas)
2.) USFS Dispatch for LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers) 661 723.2703
3.) California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife: 1 888 DFG CALTIP (1 888 334.2258)
If an animal is injured, contact Pasadena Humane Society. They will respond to wildlife calls in Altadena and on USFS trails. Ask for their wildlife officer, Ashley Hermans, though any PHS humane officer can assist: 626-792-7151 ext. 110
Dog control is a rare talent
All of us can help prevent needless tragedies like what happened to that poor deer. The owner of the dog knew better. More of us need to remind owners who let their dogs run loose to please put their pets on leash or restrain them so that they are not a risk to others. This also keeps the dogs themselves safer. If that fails to work, it is up to authorities to cite these persons.
That said, there are also quite a few dogs technically "off-leash" that are under far better control than most uruly, untrained, hyper dogs who are leashed, pulling their owners along the trail by one of those long "reel-out" leashes. I frequently see very sedate, disciplined dogs strolling in close heel with an elderly owner who is simply holding a leash loosely in hand... or the incredibly well-behaved cattle dogs and barn mutts that follow after horse riders and never leave their side. Using a leash from horseback is not practical, so these dogs and horses are a team. I would not want those owners to be harassed or cited, told to leash their dogs or muzzle them, when they are not the problem.
But ... the idea that your average, inept dog owner can simply get out on a trail or into Hahamongna and then take the leash off so the dog can go wild and "run free" is alarming.
The woman who owned the dog that mauled that poor pregnant deer is a very nice elder lady who has been in denial about what her dogs do off-leash. Same with the two women with the greyhounds. They rescued those dogs from greyhound racing abuse... and greyhounds need to run. These are not gang members with pitbulls (though those exist, most often in the developed campground). These are your neighbors, avid hikers and runners and ordinary people who love the outdoors but who are incredibly naive about the annoying and dangerous behavior of their beloved dogs. Watch an episode of Cesar Milan to see some of the whacky ways people interact with domestic dogs. Once outdoors, unruly and predatory behavior comes to the fore in dogs with often tragic results.
Changing trail culture
As local trails become de facto replacements for the lack of conventional parks and dog parks, specifically, this problem of dogs running loose and harming themselves (getting bit by a rattlensnake or falling off a cliff edge), attacking other dogs or trail users or wildlife is increasing. When a dog runs out of sight from its owner and kills a lizard or baby quail, the owner often has no clue!
I think selective enforcement of egregious violators is needed, but as you know, there is a lack of law enforcement authoritiy out on the trail or in the campground. Also, dogs running around or killing wildlife is not a top priority when human crime and accidents can overwhelm resources.
The issue is that there are no authorities out on the trails or even in places like Eaton Canyon or Millard Canyon who can stop and cite problem dog owners. Lonnie Fehr, the dedicated USFS campground caretaker does his best. He has actually been attacked in the past for telling more than one woman with a dangerous dog to put her animal on leash. That is no exaggeration, since video footage was taken of the woman hitting Lonnie! Gang and teens with spike-collared pitbulls are also "non-compliant." Yet Lonnie is a volunteer host and can only do so much without the backing of usually far-off USFS LEOs or even local Sheriffs who don't like driving up into the canyon.
"Trail culture" needs to change whereby all hikers, riders, and other visitors out for a pleasant time make it unacceptable for problem owners to let their dogs run off leash. Sadly, public tolerance for this behavior needs to go down. If every person with a hyper or aggressive dog is told by every passerby to leash that dog, the general hassle and embarrassment will make many persons leash-up their dog and/or go elsewhere. It is disruptive and inconvenient to do this and you can run into confrontational, hostile, upset dog owners... So most of us avoid saying anything. I've politely spoken up as a veterinary tech. and wildlife advocate. This sometimes gets the point across and sometimes gets me hollered at or the person simply ignores me. But, I think if more persons said something, the situation would improve.