Leashes advised for dogs on popular Basalt trail after coyote attack | VailDaily.com

Leashes advised for dogs on popular Basalt trail after coyote attack

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Trudi Feast, right, hikes the Arbaney Kittle Trail outside of Basalt on Tuesday with her Yellow Lab Zeus. Her hiking partner Diana Keyser accompanies her dog Ethel. Coyotes have posed a threat to pets recently on the trail.

Dog owners are being advised to be cautious with their pets when they hike the Arbaney Kittle Trail outside of Basalt after a pack of coyotes brazenly snatched a terrier mix recently while the owner was nearby.

The owners of the dog didn't want to get into details after suffering the traumatic event on Thanksgiving week. The coyotes stalked the hiker and his dog and essentially launched an ambush from the gully that parallels the popular trail. The dog was carried off into the adjoining woods. The owner eventually was able to rescue the dog, but he died of injuries later in the week.

Ollie Bode, owner of Alpine Meadows, a dog-boarding operation near the Arbaney Kittle trailhead, said it is apparent that coyotes are common in the neighborhood, though she hasn't had problems at the kennel.

"My advice for people is to keep them on the leash, especially at this time of year," Bode said.

"Everybody's hungry," she added, referring to predators.

Arbaney Kittle Trail is immensely popular with midvalley residents, and a high percentage of hikers bring dogs. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails allows dogs to be off-leash but under control in the parking lot and on the short distance of trail it owns. Most of the trail is in the White River National Forest. The Forest Service allows dogs to be off-leash on the route.

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Even larger dogs can be at risk from wily coyotes. Bode recalled her daughter walking one of their dogs, a mid-sized heeler, at the trailhead a few years ago when a lone coyote appeared. It was trying to lure the dog into the brush, where her daughter saw other coyotes lurking, Bode said.

Perry Will, area wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said it's not common for coyotes and other predators to go after pets, but it's not unheard of. A mountain lion recently entered a yard to snatch a small dog in Edwards.

"It doesn't happen that often, but neither do lightning strikes," he said. In other words, the risk is always there.

"It's wildlife being wildlife," Will said.

Coyotes are becoming habituated to human presence, just like bears, so it's not unusual that they would go after a pet close to its owner, Will said. Still, the best bet is keeping a dog on a leash.

Kelly Alford, a Basalt resident who is a regular early-morning hiker on Arbaney Kittle Trail, said she is keeping her dog leashed after this recent incident. She had a similar experience occur in May 2015 — with the same traumatic outcome.

She was hiking with her 6-year-old West Highland white terrier as well as other people with dogs. While on the hike, her terrier "bolted." Alford saw some deer hightailing it into the woods and she suspected the coyotes chasing them nabbed her dog. She couldn't see the terrier but heard her yelp. The dog was never found, even though several friends and concerned people spent time looking over the next three days.

"It was very traumatic," Alford said.

The experience didn't sour her on walking the trail. That's one of the risks of hiking in the backcountry, she said, but she is more careful now. Smaller dogs in particular are easy targets for coyotes.

"The little terriers like we have are like an hors d'oeuvre for them," she said.

John Armstrong, the senior ranger for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, said he hasn't heard of extensive issues with coyotes pursuing dogs on Arbaney Kittle, but it didn't surprise him. Coyotes are opportunists.

"The smaller the animal, the easier the prey for a coyote," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com