Wolves attack 2 dogs in Jackson County, killing a working cow dog
A working cow dog was killed by wolves early Monday morning near North Park, Colo. The following day, a pet dog was attacked four miles away, and he was euthanized because of his injuries. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers found wolf tracks in the vicinity and GPS collar data for both incidents that also indicated wolves were in the area during the time the dogs were attacked.
Working cow dogs are invaluable on ranches in places like Jackson County, Colorado, where the country is vast and rough. Cow dogs can replace a full-time employee in some operations, gathering and even holding cattle in a corner until they’re asked to bring them. They can, like Cisco once did, run into the thick willows to retrieve three cow calf pairs and emerge moments later with the three pairs, two moose and a deer that were there, too.
Cisco, a 7-year-old Border Collie, proved his worth daily to Greg and Donna Sykes on the Swift Ranches in Jackson County. Sykes has a string of eight Border Collies in various stages of training but it’s Sisco he counted on to help train the others. It was Cisco he could trust to send with Donna to gather bulls, and it was Cisco that worked alongside him every day.
“When the neighbors call, they want my dog, not me,” he said. “And I’m ok with that.”
On March 13, 2023, Sykes let the string of cow dogs outside briefly at about 4 a.m. before calling them back to the mudroom where they sleep and eat. Cisco and a female dog, Lady, didn’t recall at 4:30 a.m. When the guard dogs showed up in his yard, he said he knew he had a problem. He said he went outside to search for the dogs, but went the opposite direction, never thinking they would still be so close to the house.
Once the first light of dawn poured over the ranch, he spotted Cisco out the window. Lady, who worked side by side with Cisco daily, was lying beside him protecting his body. Sykes, a big man and a lifelong cowboy, said he carried Cisco’s body inside and laid him on the freezer and called CPW, blubbering, he said, all the while. When he returned to the mudroom, Lady had jumped up on the freezer to lay beside Cisco, and that is where she stayed until CPW officers arrived. She returned to his side immediately once the CPW officers left and Sykes said that is where she stayed until they removed his body to be cremated.
At the time of the attack, Sykes’ livestock guardian dogs were with the cowherd, but left the herd when they heard Cisco attacked. Sykes said they have continued to patrol around the house for wolves in the days following the attack. The cow dog string now refuses to go outside without Sykes. He said losing Cisco has been emotional and hard, not only losing a working dog, but a dog that was so valuable and loved as part of the family.
Sykes is no wolf advocate but said he had accepted that wolf presence was inevitable, especially following the passage of the reintroduction. He was prepared to live and work with wolves in the area, just as he does with other large predators.
“I felt like we needed to figure out how to deal with them,” he said. “I mean, I don’t want them here, but you have to pick your battles and I felt all along that we had to figure out how to protect — I’ll be honest, I never thought my dog in my yard — but our livestock, our property.”
RANCHERS AND WILDLIFE
He said he wants voters and consumers to know and understand that there isn’t a cattleman or woman in his community that doesn’t love the elk and the moose, despite any challenges that must be managed around, he said they all love the wildlife and having the opportunity to ranch alongside all of that wildness. He said the same of the compassion and care ranchers provide to their livestock, calling it second to none.
“To have your hands tied in your own front yard and have people who don’t understand that we need to be able to defend ourselves and protect our property,” he said. “Everybody knows Coloradoans love their dogs, but they need to realize it’s going to get worse.”
Sykes is preparing for calving season, which is right around the corner. Wednesday was spent moving bulls and working cows and he said Cisco’s absence left a significant gap in the crew. CPW is continuing to monitor the GPS updates on the wolves and told Sykes the wolves are still on the ranch.
The two wolves that attacked and killed Cisco are collared and CPW confirmed they also attacked a dog on a neighboring ranch only four miles away the following morning. That dog was euthanized because of his injuries. Sykes said the morning Cisco was killed, the wolves killed a cow elk half a mile from his house and left it. CPW didn’t return a request for confirmation of the elk predation.
Sykes called his neighbor around 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday to tell him about Cisco and to let him know his guardian dogs were signaling wolf presence. By 7:30 a.m., his neighbor, Roy Gollobith, was on the way to seek emergency veterinary care for his dog. Gollobith told Steamboat Radio he and CPW officials located wolf tracks between his house and garage, about 10 feet from his home.
CPW does provide compensation for livestock guard and herding dogs, based on the actual value of the dog at the time and place of the loss. Sykes said it’s much like replacing a full-time employee, even though dogs of Cisco’s caliber have sold for $20,000.
Sykes has provided interviews to a number of mainstream news outlets and said one journalist asked him several good questions, including what he wants Front Range voters to know. None of those questions and answers appeared on the broadcast. He said he wants Front Range voters to know ranchers aren’t heartless and they provide excellent care to animals and do love the wildlife as well but need to be able to protect their stock.
“That’s what we’re up against and they put us up against it,” he said. “It feels like they have an us against them mentality.”