Death and Deception in Steamboat Springs

On December 27, Colorado Parks and Wildlife killed a juvenile male mountain lion in Steamboat Springs ostensibly because he was fearless and preyed upon a family’s dog.

I say “ostensibly” because I really can’t rely on Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to tell me the truth. And although I despair at saying this, I can’t count on the media to do so, either.

In the case of CPW, communications are very carefully crafted to further the agency’s hunting and fishing goals and to maintain the illusion that there’s a firm line distinguishing humans from the other animals on the planet.

As to the media, they’re simply not serving their historical role as protectors of democracy and watchdogs of government. They thrive on conflict, they are politically and monetarily influenced, and the role of editing and cautious reporting has been virtually eliminated by the 24/7 news cycle.

CPW’s media release on the tragedy is really quite telling for a reader with a critical eye. Certainly the most galling element of it is the use of the word “euthanasia” to describe the killing of the lion. Euthanasia (Greek: easy death) is the act or practice of killing individuals who are hopelessly sick or injured. The common synonym is “mercy killing”. It doesn’t take a critical eye to see that this killing was not done to a sick or injured animal, nor did it involve mercy.

Perhaps as appalling was CPW’s contention, right there in the headline of the release, that the mountain lion was “fearless”. Really?? Who’s to say? Perhaps he was terribly scared. That sort of wild assertion is reckless for an agency that claims to be science based.

permission to use this image, but we don't care. This is the last known photo of this beautiful animal.
This is the last known photo of this beautiful animal, who doesn’t seem to be at all “fearless”, the term applied to him by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

But the Steamboat Pilot played right along. The lead: Maison was a sweet, crazy, lovable and protective dog for the Kortas family of Steamboat Springs.

What? As opposed to the vicious killing machine? For all we know, the mountain lion was sweet, crazy, lovable and protective, too.

But wait. There’s more.

When the release was written, CPW knew the mountain lion was male, but the agency, as usual, used “it” rather than “he” (or “she”) to refer to the animal. This isn’t a small point when viewed in light of the larger issue here.

There’s also CPW’s near-hysterical language. The area wildlife manager is quoted by CPW as stating, “Our priority is human safety. Small children in the area and the animals [sic] unwillingness to relocate demonstrated profound risk.”

I wish they’d have said more about that profound risk, because to my knowledge, only three people have been killed by mountain lions in Colorado over the past 100 years, and only one of them was not an adult. Mountain lions aren’t interested in humans as prey.

I’m almost done.

CPW’s media release failed to mention two substantial facts:

  • The family left the dog outside alone for an hour.
  • The family’s house apparently borders mountain lion habitat. According to a Steamboat resident, “They are the last house in Brooklyn, backing up to the entire Emerald [Mountain Park], and have only one neighbor.” This resident goes on to say, and we completely agree, “It’s a sad day when we lose a pet, but living on the edge of town, and next to such a large open space, encounters with nature should be expected.”

And of course both the Steamboat Pilot and the Denver Post, and probably every other media outlet that carried the story, simply regurgitated CPW’s contention that the killing of the mountain lion was euthanasia.

For what it’s worth, I have asked the Denver Post reporter and her editor to be more careful with their use of the term “euthanasia” and to be more diligent in their roles as guardians of the language.

As to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, if the agency truly believes killing a mountain lion who has killed a dog is justifiable, then let’s call it just that – we killed him – and do away with the disingenuous language.

Any US Wildlife Emergency – from Anywhere: The Long Arm of Animal Help Now

The Dallas/Fort Worth Wildlife Coalition Hotline receives dozens of calls every day. While the hotline volunteers can handle most of those, they do receive numerous inquiries from outside their service area. After all, people find the hotline through web searches, and so the calls do come in from Portland to Portland, and points in between.

Sometimes the hotline staff can dispense with such out-of-area calls quickly: “Because the fawn’s mother is close by, and the fawn is not in obvious danger, you should leave the fawn alone.”

Other out-of-area calls require more work. And when a hotline staffer needs to find a rehabber in another area – say Portland, Maine – he or she is trained to use Animal Help Now to do just that.

It’s easy. The staffer simply opens AnimalHelpNow.org, enters the caller’s address in the You Are Here box, and clicks Wildlife Issue.

YouAreHere

Of course, if the caller has web access, the hotline staffer can simply give the caller the Animal Help Now web address.

As with other hotlines and many rehabilitation centers, the DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline provides the Animal Help Now URL on its outgoing message.

Pretty nifty. Especially when compared with the alternative.

Now we just need to get this tool into as many hands as possible.

Please help us spread the word. Share this post with your neighborhood vet clinic, any municipal or county officials you know, and of course with your area wildlife rehabilitation centers. We’ll take care of the rest.

Animal Help Now’s referral functionality is covered in its webinar for animal emergency professionals. The next scheduled webinar is December 7, 2015. Click here for more information. To view previously recorded webinars, visit our YouTube channel.

“There are lots of snakes.”

This was 1998 or so. At the time I had a half hour commute between my home in Boulder, Colorado, and my workplace in Golden. Highway 93 provided a relatively quick shot between the two, with just three stoplights (where now there are eight).

Still, the highway holds on to a bit of its wild feel, as it runs parallel to untrammeled foothills, with much of the in between land set aside as open space.

But this was 17 years ago, and I was on my way home, northbound on the two lane highway, in the valley south of the quarry…

I am minding my own business. I see a coiled up rope in the southbound lane. And then as I get closer the rope becomes a snake. A big snake. Big.

I am not one to not help an animal in distress. I immediately pull over and run over toward the snake, thankful for the lull in southbound traffic. She doesn’t welcome my approach. A raised head. A rattle.

I am H.I. in Raising Arizona after knocking Leonard Smalls off his Harley. Sick with the sudden reality of my situation. Over my head.

Today – with much more traffic and with much less patience among the commuting public – a person probably couldn’t get away with what I did next.

I step into the southbound lane and wave my hands at the oncoming traffic. The first car stops, and so do the cars behind it. “What is it?”, the driver of the lead car asks. A snake, my reply. A pause. “There are lots of snakes”, his eventual rejoinder.

Yet he is willing to keep his car parked in the road while I attempt a rescue.

Back at my Subaru, I hurriedly and ineffectively duct tape two golf clubs together. (According to the internet, rattlesnakes cannot jump, but they can lunge – about half the length of their bodies.) But it’s 1998, and I don’t know much about rattlesnakes. I wouldn’t believe they could jump, but I don’t know if I can outrun them. I approach warily.

A northbound car slows. “What’s up?”, the driver asks helpfully.

“There’s a rattlesnake in the road.”

Prairie Rattlesnake, Tom Spinker
Prairie Rattlesnake, Tom Spinker

“Oh. OK.” And away he goes.

Deep breath. To my right, the cars coming to a stop in a long and growing line. A honk. Another. To my left, curiosity slowing and occasional screeching tires.

A foot closer. A slight prod of the snake with my flaccid implement. No response. Another, and then a rattle. And me there, with barely controlled terror, trying to formulate thoughts. Looking back, I probably could have taped several more clubs together. There would have had to have been more overlap, to avoid the arcing effect…

And then – a helper! Misery’s company. “What can I do?”, he yells, his car pulled over on the shoulder behind mine.

Oh, thank you! I ask him to try to warn the northbound traffic to slow down. He grabs a large piece of cardboard from my open trunk and starts waving it.

To some effect. Probably because people are trying to read what is taped to it: A poster reading, “Would Jesus be killing prairie dogs today?”

I’m an animal advocate, in case you didn’t already know.

Nevertheless, he’s doing his job, standing on the center line, waving his sign, and I’m in the southbound lane yelling at the snake, pounding my feet, waving my arms and the golf club thing.

Long story short. I can’t compel the snake to move off the road. The guy in the lead car says, “Can we just go around on the shoulder?”

I say, that’s not going to work. I’m at wit’s end.

And then as if on cue the snake slowly uncoils and slithers off the road, to the west, into the open space, toward the foothills where she belongs. And the three of us watch, mesmerized.

And the guy in the lead car smiles and says, “Wow. That’s beautiful.”

Strength in Numbers

I’m always grateful to live in Boulder County and never more so than during giving season when AHNow participates in Colorado Gives Day, an annual statewide campaign to increase philanthropy through online donations.

Colorado Gives Day logo

Last year, generous individuals and companies gave a record-breaking $26.2 million to 1,677 nonprofits on Colorado Gives Day. I hope all of our supporters will help make this year’s Colorado Gives Day, December 8, even more successful than last year’s by making a special donation and encouraging your friends, families and colleagues to do the same.

It’s super easy to participate. You simply visit AHNow’s Colorado Gives page on December 8 (or any day between November 1 and December 8) and make your contribution. You can save two birds with one app by donating on December 1, #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving.

As we approach this year’s season of giving back, I am incredibly grateful for every one in the Animal Help Now community – the donors, advisors, staff and volunteers – who are, like me, passionate about our mission to help injured and distressed animals by providing the public with immediate access to emergency care professionals. I cannot thank you enough.

Pitying Predators, Pitying Ourselves

spiderA spider built a beautiful web on my front porch three days ago and took up residency at the center. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t snared any prey, and in fact the web already is in disrepair and seems to be about a third its original size.

Still she sits at the center, awaiting a reprieve from what I imagine to be her increasing hunger and concern.

Another spider did the same thing in my garage over the summer, apparently dying of hunger before successfully catching a meal.

Surely this happens all the time all over the world to predators – carnivores and omnivores alike.

We animal advocates tend to sympathize with the prey. I think that’s because so many of us reject the idea that might makes right, or at least we reject the way humans have perverted this axiom by taking it to its extreme. So we end up wanting to warn the rabbit about the hawk overhead.

But the hawk must eat, as must the spider, as must we all.

People say nature is cruel, but killing and eating is an act of survival, not cruelty.

Sadly, the human approach to eating animals is fraught with cruelty, both directly – as is the case with intensive confinement operations – and indirectly – in the devastating effects of intensive animal agriculture on wildlife habitat and the climate, and indeed on our fellow humans, an obscene number of whom go to bed hungry every night even in the United States because of the inequity and iniquity of our food systems. Might makes wrong here, no two ways about it.

It’s the animal advocate’s job to accept that nature involves killing. Becoming comfortable with natural animal behaviors allows us to more clearly identify (and thus eliminate) the aberrant behaviors of our fellow humans, to save our energy for effective and meaningful advocacy and, quite frankly, to stay sane.

If you must choose to pity the rabbit who dies in the hawk’s talons, pity too the spider who sits waiting in her tattered web for a meal that will never come.

But I recommend against expending your pity on either. Pity instead the victims of human callousness and disregard. But don’t swim in it, you know? We are surrounded by pain and suffering that can easily overwhelm us. Be mindful with your emotions. We have to take care of ourselves.

My good friend Dyne told me years ago, “Dave, you can’t take on all the world’s suffering and pain.” Those words possibly saved my life, and they certainly enabled me to remain effective in my advocacy.