Matty Deehan thought he saw the strangest thing — a deer harassing a bison — Tuesday evening while out with clients on a sunset safari in Grand Teton National Park.
As the EcoTour Adventures wildlife guide pulled off the highway in the Elk Ranch Flats area, he could make out a bison being irritated by something that was bounding through the grass and that kept flashing a white tail. His mind, initially, went to a white-tailed deer.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting — what is happening?’ and then I get around the corner and I see a harness,” Deehan told the Jackson Hole Daily.
He realized his deer was a domestic husky and was irked to discover that the unique wildlife interaction was due to just another rule-breaking tourist. The husky, meanwhile, was having a blast testing one bison after the next.
“I’m not going to fault the dog,” Deehan said. “This is a domesticated animal that is supposed to be trained by humans.
“I observe wolves doing the exact same thing in Lamar Valley,” he added. “The husky was tapping into that DNA.”
Deehan didn’t see how the dog got loose, but he watched and listened to see how its owner handled the situation. The short of it: Repeated attempts at reprimanding Fido didn’t go so well.
“I could hear them calling and calling and calling,” Deehan said.
“Being a dog owner and knowing dog behavior, if you’re commanding your dog and it’s not responding, just saying the same thing over and over and over again is not going to change its behavior,” he said. “When you’re 300 yards away and you’re calling your dog for 20 [expletive] minutes and it’s not coming, you’ve got to come up with a different plan.”
Enough time ticked by that law enforcement was alerted to the situation.
Reached on Thursday, Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann didn’t have any info on the outcome of the bison-harassing husky.
“It was reported,” she said, “and it is under investigation.”
For whatever reason, pet-related violations — primarily having dogs off leash or in places they’re not allowed — have become much more of an issue for Grand Teton rangers. In 2019, there were 18 such violations. That flew up to 144 during the 2020 summer season.
Numbers aren’t yet available for 2021, but Germann said the park proactively sought to counteract the rash of dogs in off-limits areas by increasing messaging about where dogs are permitted: primarily on pavement only, and on a leash.
Rules against dogs in national parks exist for a reason, said Gus Smith, Teton park’s science and resource chief, who had seen footage Deehan shot (see the clip with this story online at JHNewsAndGuide.com).
“On a hot day like today, that’s just so much stress on a critter that has a very hard time shedding heat,” Smith said. “They just don’t need to be hassled by people’s pets.”
There are also disease concerns related to adding domestic dogs to an environment that already hosts wild canines. Smith pointed out how a pet dog brought to Isle Royale, an island national park in Lake Superior, decimated the wolf population there in the 1980s, causing it to drop from 50 to 14, after canine parvovirus was transmitted.
Deehan’s take is that people ignoring or not knowing the dog regulations in the national park has begotten more of the same illegal human behavior.
“It’s just like cigarette butts: They’re everywhere now,” he said. “I’m like the rest of us, and I’m pretty fed up that my town is being overrun by a bunch of trashy people.”
Even so, he’s hopeful that outreach can help curb ignorance and indifference.
“I would assume that everybody wants to be educated,” Deehan said, “and I don’t think that anybody sets out to be a dip---t.”
As for the troublesome husky, it’s unclear what became of it. Deehan watched the unruly animal get a couple of bison bumps, but the dog just moved on to harassing the next bison over. Eventually, the wildlife guide and his party tired of the sorry spectacle.
“We were sitting there for a good 10 minutes, to the point where I turned to them and asked, ‘Have we seen enough of this display of lacking responsibility?’” Deehan said.
“They were like, ‘This is painful, let’s get out of here.’ ”