Winter in Alaska can bring challenges for both humans and their animal friends. And learning how to keep pets warm and stay away from wildlife is important, according to local officials.
Many wild animals are equipped with natural defenses against the cold, like thick fur or the ability to migrate. But for the local moose population that overwinters in the Homer area, there are a few added challenges. When snow builds up along roadways and in the wooded areas moose live in, for example, it’s difficult for moose to walk and forage.
Migrating into the cleared areas of town and plowed roadways offers moose respite from the deep snow. And with this migration, the chance of vehicle-moose collisions goes way up.
In the first two weeks of the year alone, the Kenai Peninsula saw 21 moose killed on roadways, and there have been a reported 145 killed in collisions and salvaged since July 2022, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
But moose near roadways can also lead to unintended confrontations between the large game and humans or their pets.
Jason Herrman, a local wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, said moose can be dangerous.
“Those are big animals that can be hazardous to people. They really just need some space,” he said.
It’s important to ensure there are no moose in the area before letting your pet out, according to Herrman, even if the area is fenced in. Moose can weigh over 1,000 pounds, meaning a lot of barriers can easily keep a pet in, but may not keep moose out.
A similar rule of thumb applies to any space where dog owners may come across wildlife.
Lt. Ryan Browning from the Homer Police Department said it’s important to keep pets from having those kinds of encounters. He said relying solely on a pet’s training is not realistic when wildlife is involved.
“Make sure your animals are confined. When you’re out in public spaces, put them on a leash,” he said. “Very few dogs respond immediately to voice control.”
Leashing of pets has been an ongoing discussion during Homer City Council meetings. The council recently adopted an ordinance that could implement a fine for unleashed pets in city-owned parks and campgrounds.
Other wild or formerly-domesticated animals make their way through city limits and are generally self-sufficient during the winter months. But Jillian Rogers with Homer Animal Shelter and Alaska Mindful Paws said you can lend a helping hand for the smaller critters in need.
“You can put out an insulated little dog house or cat house,” she said. “Igloo coolers make great insulated houses. Put some straw — not hay — in there. That way if there are community cats, if there are lost bunnies, they have a little bit of shelter and warmth.”
You can listen to the conversation with Lt. Ryan Browning, Jason Herrman and Jillian Rogers here or find the Coffee Table podcast on your favorite app.