A Calgary resident who has had several run-ins with aggressive deer on her lakefront property in Invermere over the last few weeks says she’s afraid for her life, and while local officials speculate her small dogs may be the cause of the problem, no immediate solutions are forthcoming. “All of the circumstances [with aggressive deer] this year involve dogs,” said Invermere conservation officer Lawrence Umsonst, who defines an aggressive deer as one that approaches individuals. “And it seems like they’re all does that are probably protecting fawns, although a fawn wasn’t observed in all cases, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a fawn because, of course, the habits of deer are that they leave the fawns somewhere and go and feed, but if you bring a dog near that area, instinct kicks in and they want to defend that area and their fawn.”
So far this summer, the Invermere conservation office has received reports of aggressive deer in Panorama Mountain Village Resort, on the Old Coach Road in Dry Gulch, and in the District of Invermere. Panorama Resort has taken it upon themselves to document the area with signage warning people not to walk their dogs in that particular area, Umsonst said.
“At this stage with very young fawns, the does are a lot more aggressive. [The fawns] are usually born in early June so they’re probably at the most [four] weeks old, [five] weeks old,” he said, noting the aggressive behaviour tends to subside around early August.
Although reports of deer aggression on her property date back to last year, the woman — who wishes to remain anonymous — was prompted to contact local media and speak out after a series of recent incidents have left her feeling terrified.
“I respect people who live here, and because I don’t live here, I feel like I don’t have a say. And that I should just be going along with it, but I’m actually afraid,” she told The Valley Echo. “I’d like to be able to be safe in my yard.”
A self-proclaimed animal lover who lives part-time on a farm in Calgary, she was traumatized last July when three deer attacked her two small breed dogs after a friend dropped her off at her cabin one evening.
“I got back into the car but the dogs just were completely pummelled,” she said. As her dogs were being attacked by a flurry of hooves, she could hear them screaming, forced to watch as they rolled with each punch. The dogs managed to escape the battery by crawling under some steps. Both sustained internal injuries and one required surgery with 50 some stitches.
“A deer actually went and poked under the step with its hoof to try and get the dogs out,” she said.
Now she is unable to let her dogs out for even a short period of time without feeling panicked.
“I can’t go out to my car at night,” she said. “They seem to be around more.”
Three doe have set up residence in her yard, along with five or so fawn between them, she said.
“I have been patrolling and I have been throwing rocks and I have kept one female out of my yard because I knew she was ready to deliver,” she said. “I spend hours keeping them out.”
Because of a landscaping project on her property, she is currently parking her car on the road, uphill from the cabin. The last time she retrieved something from her car, she was walking back down towards the cabin holding one of her small dogs, when a deer came running at her.
“Kind of skipping, hopping towards me,” she said. “I had a level in my hand and I was scaring it; [then] it just kept slowly walking towards me.”
The deer ended up chasing her up the hill to the road, where she ran to her neighbour’s house across the street and started banging on a window, screaming for help.
“I couldn’t turn my back on her. I had a hoarse voice the next day too. I had to retreat facing her, and then I was sort of running, I just didn’t want to fall, she ended up forcing me up onto the road, I was yelling, screaming for help, no one could hear me and then she just kept advancing to the road.”
The deer remained on the street until her neighbour turned on the outside light and opened the door, at which point it turned and went back down the hill. When the neighbour drove her to her door, the deer came at her again as she tried to get to her house with her dog in arm.
“He had the lights on, was honking the horn and she still came at me, and I fell. I had my eyes on her the whole time she was coming at me, I tripped on something and I fell.”
The last straw before she decided to go public with her story took place in the morning when she went to let her dogs out. They were just a few feet from the front door when all of a sudden two deer came running at her. Construction workers at the house next door started yelling to her and she was able to get both dogs in the house before the deer stopped within about seven feet of the door. Opening the door to peek outside, she heard one man yelling at her that another deer was approaching and to stay where she was. He then drove over from next-door, down her driveway, and proceeded to chase the deer away with a shovel.
She said when she called the conservation office to report the incidents, she was told the deer’s behaviour was normal for protective and habituated deer in town, and to call 9-1-1 if she was to get cornered again.
“When I get cornered on the street like that, really, I couldn’t take my eyes off the deer let alone pull a phone out and try to find a number,” she said. Her next step is to erect a deer fence around her property as the many deer control and prevention measures she’s already tried, including deer sprinklers, deer spray and horns, have not worked.
Umsonst thinks the woman is waiting 24 hours before calling in the aggressive deer report. He advises anyone experiencing a situation involving aggressive deer to contact the Conservation Office Service 24-hour hotline at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on a cellphone immediately so officers can arrive in a timely fashion, analyze the situation and take appropriate action while the deer is still present.
If the deer continues to be aggressive, it would most likely be euthanized, but it would be up to the officers’ discretion, said Umsonst.
“As soon as time lapses between the incident and the response, there’s always the chance we’re going to get a wrong deer. It’s not an easy solution. We’re going to be taking out a doe, we’re going to be taking out fawns,” he said. “The person that reported the incident didn’t report the incident immediately, so there’s been a time frame that took place, a considerable time frame, and makes the investigation a lot more difficult on behalf of the conservation officer service to determine which deer it was.”
“We’ve asked the person to call the conservation officer service 24 hour hot line immediately if an incident is happening and this person has not done that.”
While Umsonst advises people walking their dog on a leash to take an alternate route if a deer is in the area, to carry a walking stick to fend off an aggressive deer if necessary, and to be prepared to drop the leash so the dog can get away since picking up a small dog will not cause a deer to back off as it’s still focusing on the dog, he’s at a loss for what to tell people cornered on their own property.
“Difficult to say, I don’t have any advice at this point for that,” he said. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t even leave my house at night,” said the woman. “If the people who weren’t supportive of the deer cull, who didn’t want the deer to be culled, I know they have not seen what I have seen — if they have seen what I have seen and experienced, that would change their mind, I know that.”
See next week’s (July 18) edition of The Valley Echo for the continuation of this story, which includes comments from both the District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft and the Invermere Deer Protection Society (IDPS) president Devin Kazakoff.