In Tooele City, deer and people sometimes live side by side — especially during the winter, when deer come into the valley looking for food.
But city-dwelling deer can pose a problem to local drivers, gardens and, occasionally, pets.
Most recently on Oct. 19, Ruth Cowley and her son John let their black Labrador out at around 1 a.m. to go to the bathroom. Although the Cowleys’ home on Broadmoor Drive is surrounded by a chain-link fence, John Cowley saw a buck had entered the yard and scared it away.
Shortly after he re-entered his home, John and Ruth Cowley heard their dog whimpering.
“The dog was screaming,” Ruth Cowley said. “The deer evidently jumped back over the fence and attacked the dog. He had him pinned up against the fence. John ran out in his bare feet and got between the deer and the dog.”
According to a Tooele City police report filed later that day, the buck’s antlers pierced the dog near his spinal cord and lower abdomen.
The Cowleys rushed the dog to an on-call veterinarian, who examined him, prescribed some pills and sent him home, according to Ruth Cowley.
“It took us an hour to get him out of the car,” she said. “He either wouldn’t move or couldn’t move … but we finally got him into the house and he just went downhill from there.”
Just before noon, the Cowleys called the city animal control, which responded to the home and filed a police report on the incident, said Tooele City Police Cpl. Tanya Turnbow.
“They hadn’t been gone very long when [the dog] passed away,” Ruth Cowley said. “It’s been devastating around here. This dog was [John’s] companion dog. John has bipolar disorder and some other difficulties, so this dog was, like, his whole life. He’s been having such a hard time.”
It’s uncommon for deer to attack animals or people unless the deer is in a situation where it feels threatened, said Tom Becker, local biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
“It usually happens in wintertime,” Becker said. “In a fenced-in yard where the deer can’t afford to lose energy by running, they have a tendency to stay put, so if you have a little dog going out trying to confront a deer, it can get stomped. It happens.”
Becker declined to comment specifically on the attack on the Cowleys’ dog because he didn’t know the exact circumstances of the incident. However, he offered the season as a possible explanation for the buck’s aggressive behavior.
“This is a little earlier than I would expect something like that unless the circumstances were just right,” he said. “But if it was a buck, that’s another thing. They are just beginning to rut and so they have a tendency to be a little more aggressive right now than they would be in another month. It could be something to do with that.”
Ruth Cowley was afraid the buck would hurt her son when he ran out to rescue his dog, she said.
“I’m surprised my son didn’t get hurt,” she said. “The deer was so aggressive, I would’ve thought he would’ve tried to attack my son. My son was very fortunate that he didn’t get hurt.”
On Oct. 23, Ruth Cowley shared the story at church and someone said they’d also had deer jump their fence and attack their two dogs.
“I hope something can be done,” she said. “All our neighbors here are very upset about the deer because a lot of them have gardens and evidently they’ve been here all summer just hanging out. … It’s a big problem.”
The question of how to protect residences while preserving the deer’s winter range is a statewide issue, Becker said.
“I guess the first thing I would do if I lived in a high deer density area is look out your back window first before you let your dog out,” he said.
Becker also recommended that residents keep their dog on a leash when taking it for a walk and not encouraging their dog to chase or confront deer.
“Be aware there are deer in your neighborhood and if you do pressure a deer with a dog, the dog can get kicked and stomped,” he said.
Installing a fence at least 6 feet tall may also help keep deer away.
“A 6-foot fence is not a problem usually [for a deer to jump],” Becker said. “But fortunately, they usually don’t try it unless there’s something really desirable inside.”
In addition, the DWR is currently participating in a study about the effectiveness of relocating city-dwelling deer to less populated areas. However, the study is still too new to have reached any conclusions about whether relocating city deer is a good solution for both deer and residents, he said.
Anytime a resident sees a wild animal causing problems in their neighborhood, they can call Tooele County Dispatch at 435-882-5600, according to Turnbow.