ST. GEORGE — Some residents in a small town in Southern Utah are up in arms after they say an officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources went on private property to euthanize a deer that reportedly killed a dog.
The incident began just before noon Wednesday when Cole Montague, who lives in Antimony, a town with less than 120 residents, received a text from a friend advising that a conservation officer with the Department of Wildlife Resources was at his home to dispose of the deer.
However, the reality is that the incident actually began two years ago, when Montague rescued two deer fawns from the side of the road after the mother ran into the side of his pickup as he was driving down the highway.
Montague told St. George News that when he went to inspect the doe, he noticed that she was dead, “but her stomach was moving like crazy.” He was able to remove the two fawns and take them home to care for them with the help of his two dogs that mothered the fawns like their own.
After three months, one of the fawns died, while the second survived – the same deer that was shot by the officer Wednesday.
Montague said the doe was part of the family. While the deer has never been collared or corralled and has roamed free all over town, she is at the Montague property often, he said.
“The doe thinks she’s a dog really.”
So when he received the call from his friend Wednesday, Montague asked the friend to return to the home, along with Montague’s wife, who was working nearby. When both arrived, they found a deer lying next to a pickup truck bleeding from the face.
Montague said the officer attempted to secure the doe with a rope, and when that was unsuccessful, he shot the animal – details that Utah DWR Outreach Manager Phil Tuttle confirmed with St. George News.
The shot, however, did not kill the animal. Instead, it fell to the ground and remained there for awhile before it jumped up and ran off.
The officer proceeded to canvas the property in search of the animal so he could euthanize it, but he left after he was unable to locate it, assuming the animal was dead.
Montague’s main contention with Wednesday’s incident is that a conservation officer entered his property without permission and hunted for the animal “holding a rifle with a school less than 500 yards away.” He said the conservation officer was “out of line” by coming onto his property and then leaving the animal to suffer.
Additionally, he said they were never given any details about the dog that was “supposedly killed by the doe, only that it happened.”
Tuttle said their office was notified by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office that a deer killed a dog in Antimony on Tuesday, and they dispatched the conservation officer to the area the following day.
“DWR didn’t investigate the initial report involving the dog,” Tuttle said, “We only responded to dispose of the animal.”
St. George News attempted to reach the Sheriff’s Office but have been unable to get comment as of publication of this article.
Tuttle also said the conservation officer located the deer and knocked on the door of the residence, but after no one answered, the officer attempted to catch the deer. When his efforts were unsuccessful, he followed protocol and shot the deer due to “public safety concerns.”
Tuttle added that the conservation officer operated within regulations to pursue efforts to dispose of the animal and even called the DWR office when he wasn’t able to reach the property owner before taking any action.
The conservation officer wasn’t out there in a “helter-skelter” manner trying to shoot an animal, Tuttle said, but he was out there doing what he was tasked to do. He said these officers are tasked with euthanizing animals often, whether they are found injured on the side of the road or are presenting a public safety hazard.
“The officer was following the Division of Wildlife Resources’ euthanasia policy after his attempts to catch the deer were unsuccessful, only after confirming that he could do so safely.”
Tuttle also said the deer “showed a lack of wariness toward humans,” which can be very dangerous.
He said the situation with this particular doe is unusual but stressed that animals that are treated as pets lose that natural wariness present in nondomesticated animals, which is when problems can arise. These animals can also find themselves in situations they would never have encountered out in the wild, so it is best to “let wildlife remain wild.”
Montague said the doe survived the shooting and is expected to make a full recovery.
Tuttle didn’t provide details as to what the DWR’s next steps might be regarding the doe.
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