June and July are the busiest months for wildlife officials responding to complaints of deer attacks
Sylvia Weaver walks with her dog down Beach Street in Ashland Wednesday. Ella’s Weaver and her canine companion recently were harassed by an aggressive deer while walking in the area, and wildlife officials say it was far from an isolated incident. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Sylvia Weaver was walking her dog north of Triangle Park in Ashland early July 17, when she was chased home by a deer.
She saw a doe, a female deer, ahead of her and her dog as they walked up the street. A longtime Ashland resident, she knew what that could mean. Every year, between June and July, the does of Southern Oregon can be aggressive, especially toward dogs.
Weaver turned and walked in the opposite direction. Then there was another deer, which she avoided. Then a third.
“In the matter of a half a block walk, we had to change course three times because of deer,” Weaver said.
Despite her efforts to avoid the does, one of them stalked her and her dog back to their home.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife gets 99% of its aggressive deer complaints in the month of July, said Matthew Vargas, assistant wildlife biologist for the Central Point ODFW office.
Deer have their fawns in May, and by early July, the babies are mobile and can walk around with their mothers, he said.
Canines are four-legged predators, Vargas said, and “to the deer, I think, they look like foxes or coyotes, maybe even bobcats. Those aren’t a threat to fully grown deer, but for the fawns they are.”
The root of the problem is the abundance of affection many people feel for deer, he said, stressing the importance of never feeding or petting deer or approaching fawns. Even if a fawn looks abandoned, its mother is probably foraging nearby and will return.
“The problem occurs this time of year, but it’s created throughout the year,” Vargas said.
Even during cold winter months, he said, they’re wildlife; they have to be left wild. Human intervention breeds familiarity and teaches deer not to fear people.
“That loss of fear turns into aggression,” he said.
Nel Maloney of Ashland has long contended with a doe beloved by her neighborhood.
“She has one bad eye. Ella she’s been hit by a car several times. Ella she’s got a new broken leg — I noticed it the other day. But even with that, she can travel as fast as my dog, ”Maloney said.
Her dog is often chased by the doe with one good eye. Once, he chased the dog around a car in circles, with Maloney watching and waiting for her dog to escape.
A dog belonging to Marcus Kinion of Gold Hill was killed in a deer attack July 1, according to a complaint filed with ODFW.
Win Kellerman of Medford has dealt with deer near her semi-rural property for a long time. The deer eat the garden, they eat the roses but they never dared to jump the 5-foot fence around her backyard — until last week, she said.
“It came from the field, jumped the fence and attacked my dog. My dog weighs about 85 pounds, and it went after my dog,” Kellerman said.
Many of those who experienced aggressive deer say they want ODFW to do something about the does.
Vargas said the department advises walking dogs on a leash and maybe, during the critical June to July fawn period, avoiding areas where aggressive deer have been seen in the past.
To fend off an attack, Vargas said, get big, wave your arms, get loud and make noise. Back up slowly and throw rocks or dirt if you can. Carrying an air horn or pepper spray can also be helpful.
“It’s funny: Oregon doesn’t have many attacks from bears, but people are always worried about it. Deer attacks happen all the time,” he said.
Vargas responded to a recent discussion on social media about using birth control to bring down Ashland’s deer population.
“There’s not a one-time pill or shot a deer could take. It’d be something they’d have to take continuously through their lifetime, just like people. These are long-lived animals, they’re going to be 6 to 10 years old,” Vargas said.
Then there are source populations of deer that people don’t see, he said. Deer move constantly between forests and urban streets, Vargas said, making it impossible to medicate them all.
Justin Dion, assistant wildlife biologist with ODFW, said people should report aggressive deer or animals acting strangely so the department can better monitor the health and behavior of Oregon deer. Those who report shouldn’t fear or expect the department to euthanize or remove deer.
A deer would only be euthanized if it posed a serious threat to human health and safety, Dion explained, unless it was a mortally wounded or sick animal.
“We do have a precedent for putting animals out of their misery,” he said.
Removal of deer, Dion said, puts potentially lethal stress on the animal, and it isn’t effective — deer already have adapted to urban life.
Two days after her close call with the three does, Weaver said she turned off her air conditioning and opened the windows of her home at 1 o’clock in the morning.
“Then I heard the fast clattering of hooves — and then horrendous cries and screams,” she said, “I assume the cougars have come to town to address the deer problems. It was difficult to hear.”
To report a deer, call ODFW at 503-947-6301.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.