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Deer chasing a dog illustration
The Rockies.Life Staff

Doe Not Disturb: Deer Attack In Okotoks Raises Management Questions

What started as a routine walk near Cimarron Circle turned into a fight for safety when a deer charged at Lisa Flentje and her dog, Lola.

If movies have taught us anything, it’s that alleyways are dangerous. Just look at what happened to Batman’s parents! 

Okotoks resident Lisa Flentje and her collie, Lola, were walking down an alley near Cimarron Circle around noon when attacked.

Lisa Flentje’s dog, Lola, recovering on the couch | Lisa Flentje | Cochrane Eagle

However, the pair wasn’t attacked by a mugger or a swarm of bees—they were attacked by a deer looking to make a quick buck

Lisa spotted the deer from a distance and considered moving around the animal or turning around, but the deer didn’t give her time to choose.

Immediately, the deer started charging Lisa and her dog from 50 feet away. The animal ran circles around the pair before lunging at Lola with its front hooves. 

The deer’s lunge connected and left Lola cowering beside a fence. Thankfully, neighbours quickly came to Lisa and Lola’s aid, allowing the two to escape into a backyard.  

“They had brought big branches and were thumping to try and get the deer away from my dog because it would not get off my dog,” Lisa told Cochrane Eagle

Lola was taken to the vet and could go home with some medication for a few bumps and bruises. 

This isn’t the first time a deer has lunged at Lisa and her dog. Lisa pointed out that deer are plentiful in Okotoks, and several of them frequent her front yard.

Lisa acknowledges that deer are wild animals and has taught her son to always be careful around them, as they can be dangerous. 

“They’re having their fawns, so they’re super aggressive. So I’m supposed to what? Shelter in place and not leave my house?” said Lisa. 

A deer attack could happen to anyone, even if they are deer-aware like Lisa, but why did the deer attack in the first place? 

Understanding Deer Attacks

Moose and deer are considered two of the most dangerous animals in North America, but not because they attack people. 

Every year, people are killed and njured in vehicle collisions with deer | Len Connect

In Alberta, deer are involved in over 1,000 wildlife collisions every month and are responsible for about 80 percent of all wildlife collisions. 

By comparison, wildlife attacks involving deer attacking humans are much rarer. The few deer attacks on humans often involve dogs.

Last week, a deer in Lethbridge followed and attacked Julie Deimert and her dog, Henry. 

Deimert rushed Henry to the veterinarian, where he underwent a $1,300 emergency surgery. The dog is expected to recover.

Many aggressive deer attacks have also been reported in Kimberly and Kelowna, British Columbia, with a small dog fatally trampled in the Kelowna incident.

“Nobody is blaming the dogs or the people who are walking their dogs; just know that the common denominator of aggressive doe attacks is dogs,” said WildSafeBC Community Coordinator Danica Roussy. Deer usually give birth to fawns in late May and early June. As they tend to their newborn fawns, does are sensitive to the presence of humans, especially dogs. 

“The odd time we get some aggressive behaviour from the deer…it’s a doe with a newborn or young fawn, and those can be protective and can act aggressive. All the reports that have come in typically include a dog. People walking dogs, the dogs appear to be a threat to the deer because they probably resemble coyotes,” Gordon White, Okotoks’ urban forestry parks technician, told Western Wheel

Deer attacks seem more frequent than they are because they make headlines, case and point being this article. 

However, we should be criticizing deer management rather than the deer themselves. 

Deer using a crosswalk on McRae Street in downtown Okotoks
Deer using a crosswalk on McRae Street in downtown Okotoks | Brent Calver | Western Wheel

Management On The Backburner?

It’s no secret that urban sprawl and development are pushing wildlife into urban centres around the world.

Extreme weather events caused by climate change, like our province’s wildfires, destroy wildlife habitats and resources. 

With nowhere left, many animal species in Alberta,  including deer, black bears, and grizzly bears, are trying their luck in urban environments like towns.

Okotoks is a perfect example. The town has plenty of green spaces and plants that deer love, making it a hotspot for wildlife. 

Prey animals like deer are also far less likely to be attacked by predators in urban areas. It’s no wonder the town’s deer population has grown from 66 in 2015 to over 100 in 2020

Okotoks approved a deer management plan in 2021, but Lisa feels like the issue is low on the town’s priority list. 

According to Okotoks’ updated 2022-2025 Urban Deer Management Strategy & Action Plan, pet injuries caused by deer attacks are one of many issues the town hopes to address. 

The action plan includes two key initiatives and short-term and long-term strategies for managing Okotoks’ urban deer population.

These initiatives are the Wildlife Feeding and Attractants Bylaw and the fencing pilot launched in 2021. The town’s bylaw bans residents from storing or disposing of wildlife attractants inappropriately and feeding wildlife directly or indirectly. 

The fencing pilot allows residents to increase the height of their residential fences. Okotoks did a deer count in February.

Until Okotoks releases the results, it is impossible to know whether these strategies have successfully limited the presence of deer in town. 

One thing is for certain. Alberta needs better deer management and more sustainable urban development, two very small pieces in a much larger puzzle. 

Until the pieces get put together, urban deer populations will continue to grow, putting residents and pets at risk.

Anyone who breaks Okotoks' Wildlife Feeding and Attractants Bylaw could face a fine up to $10,000
Anyone who breaks Okotoks’ Wildlife Feeding and Attractants Bylaw could face a fine up to $10,000 | Chris Golightly | BBC

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