After hiking about 800 km (500 mi) in the mountains along the Mediterranean this winter, we returned to our home in the Canadian Rockies on April Fools’ Day. We were just in time to meet a fool.
Our first hike was in the Spray Valley, beside the canal that diverts water from Spray Reservoir to our town of Canmore. About 45 minutes along, we witnessed a startling sight: a moose charging us at full speed.
Hiking four months in Europe, we saw only three docile deer. So it was exhilarating to be back home where wildlife is still prolific. But moose are huge, can be dangerous, and it was alarming to see how fast this moose was approaching us.
Our concern redlined when we saw the reason the moose was galloping. It was being pursued by… a coyote? It was still too distant for us to know for sure, but it was definitely a canine.
We were uncertain how to prevent a moose from trampling us at 50 kph (30 mph), but we know a vicious coyote can attack people. A coyote determined to dine on moose flesh certainly qualifies as vicious, so we pulled out our bear-spray canisters—what else to do?
Just before the animals got close enough to elicit an adrenaline rush, the moose veered away, uphill, into the forest, and the coyote followed. We thought that was the end of it until, seconds later, they were upon us, just 30 m (100 ft) away. They too were startled, however, and paused.
That’s when we saw it wasn’t a coyote. It was too big. “A wolf?” we wondered for an instant. But no, it was wearing a collar. It was a dog. A husky. Someone’s pet.
Then they were off again. The terrified moose dove into the canal and swam across. The dog jumped in behind him. Both climbed the other bank and sprinted out of sight.
We resumed our hike, wondering why dog owners continue to be so ignorant. Or is it obstinate?
The inflexible fact is that you should never unleash your dog in the Canadian Rockies backcountry.
• Off-leash dogs terrorize wildlife. The moose that fled past us was distressed. It wasted precious energy that it needed simply to find food and survive.
• Off-leash dogs might be maimed or killed. Had this moose turned on it, the dog would have been stomped to death.
• Off-leash dogs are a danger to their owners. Had this dog encountered a grizzly bear, the pursuit would have been reversed. The bear would either have mauled the dog, or chased it back to its owner and inflicted its fury on both of them.
• Off-leash dogs are a threat to anyone in the vicinity. It’s conceivable this fleeing moose would have trampled us. Had it been a bear, it might have attacked us.
Later on our hike, we encountered the dog’s owner. “Have you seen my husky?” she called. She cringed at our response. We were calm and polite, but we were firm.
What we didn’t say is that she was a fool.
If you’re a dog owner, please—for your safety, your dog’s safety, the safety of wildlife, and the safety of the rest of us who might be out there—please keep your dog on a leash in the Canadian Rockies backcountry.