KENAI — A popular farm animal met an unfortunate end at Diamond M Ranch Resort.
Obama the Llama was fatally injured by three dogs on June 4.
“They chased him down and mauled him to death,” said owner Carol Martin.
Obama was still alive when Martin found him, so Martin called a veterinarian. The vet came out and treated the wounded Obama.
Martin said he swelled up and suffocated.
“It’s really, really gruesome,” Martin said.
Obama was born a year ago. He was black and white — and his mom died while giving birth — so he was christened Obama the llama with no mama, Martin said.
“He was a friendly little guy,” Martin said. “He thought dogs were his friends. He was in the parades, he was in the newspaper.”
After his mom died, Obama nursed on a Nubian nanny goat. He ran with a pack of goats, one big state champion that Martin bought at the fair in Ninilchik last summer, and a couple of miniatures. One of the miniatures was missing Saturday when Martin found Obama.
That goat was found dead on Wednesday, also a casualty of the dogs running free.
Martin’s story is more common than wildlife and law enforcement officials would like.
Wildlife technician Larry Lewis, who works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said that his office is among those that respond when dogs don’t get along with other animals.
“It’s relatively common,” he said.
There’s no one agency that has sole jurisdiction over incidents like the one at Diamond M last weekend.
“We all are responsive to those types of calls,” Lewis said.
Usually the Alaska State Troopers or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game respond, but it can also be a federal issue. In cities, city police or animal control are often responsible. Fish and Game refers calls about dogs chasing domestic animals to the troopers, because the department mostly deals with wild animals, he explained.
Both Kenai and Soldotna have animal control ordinances designed, in part, to prevent such events. But Diamond M is outside of city limits, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough doesn’t have leash laws.
“It’s relatively self-policing,” Lewis said. His department recommends that people keep their dogs constrained.
“And then be cautious,” he said.
Martin said it’s unfortunate that people don’t understand the need to confine their dogs, particularly in the spring.
“They become wild predators,” he said.
In the last 40 years, Martin has seen more than a few dogs harassing other animals.
“It’s happened over and over again.”
Last year, Martin saw some dogs harassing caribou out on the Kenai River flats, not far from the ranch. As allowed by Alaska statute, Martin shot at them to break up the attack. The dogs left, some running, at least one hobbling.
“That three-legged dog was one of the three that came up here,” Martin said, referring to the three that killed Obama.
Martin said he thinks there needs to be more awareness of what happens when dogs aren’t properly contained.
“People deny that their dog is three miles from home causing trouble,” Martin said.
Lewis agreed with Martin that ignorance is a problem.
“People don’t know their dog is doing that,” Lewis said.
But neither sees that as an excuse.
“Bottom line in all of this is keeping your dog in line at all times,” Lewis said.
Martin said it is just a small percentage of dog owners letting their dogs run free and cause trouble, but that minority can still do damage.
Martin said he’s even seen dog owners deny that a dog was shot due to its own misconduct, and claimed that someone shot the dog and moved it from the owners’ property.
Sometimes he gets blamed for dogs he didn’t shoot, he said.
“I’ve only killed three dogs in 40 years,” he said.
Despite the complaints of any disgruntled dog owners, it’s legal in Alaska to shoot a dog harassing other animals.
There is an Alaska statute that deals with dogs running wild.
In a nutshell, it comes into play when a dog is harassing some other animal.
“Any person may lawfully kill the dog when it is at large,” Lewis said.
The shooter is supposed to look for the owner and give it the opportunity to restrain their dog, but that isn’t practical when a dog is terrorizing a moose, and it’s understood that the dog can be shot straight-away in such instances.
“Anyone may stop that attack if they see it happening,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the harassment is not a one-way street.
“It’s not always the dog or the dog owners initiating the negative interaction,” he said.
Sometimes moose will harass a dog that has been tied up and the dog has no recourse.
Dogs that are tied up need a place to get away if a moose comes to the yard.
“So dog owners need to be aware of that, too,” Lewis said.
Sometimes that stems from a bad experience the moose had with another dog.
“It’s a big circle,” he said. “Nothing exists in a bubble at all.”
There are other ways that dogs and wildlife can get tangled up.
“It’s not strictly dogs chasing wildlife that we deal with,” he said.
Lewis said that people have actually been mauled by brown bears while hiking when their dog ran off, got tangled up with a bear and brought it back to the owner.
The important thing is to keep dogs and wildlife apart for everyone’s safety, Lewis said.
Martin said he’d like to see more awareness, and fewer dogs running wild, in the future.
But that won’t bring Obama back, so he’s making do.
Martin skinned Obama the Llama and salvaged some of the prime cuts.
“Llama and goat are comparable, and they’re better than spring lamb,” he said.
The death means that Martin couldn’t bring Obama to the Stanley Ford event, where Obama was scheduled to entertain guests.
Now he’ll have to replace Obama with a different animal “and I guess tell everybody that Obama the Llama got killed,” he said.
But there are still signs of life at Diamond M.
During a farm tour on Wednesday, a new llama was born, a black-and-white baby boy, like Obama.