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Moose on rampage

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A moose displaying its displeasure with people. Note the standing neck hair and laid back ears/Craig Medred photo

Don’t panic Anchorage. The moose in the city’s most popular urban park have not declared war on their human neighbors. The Big Wild Life has not spun out of control.

What at first might appear to be a string of moose attacks over the Memorial Day holiday —  “Two bicyclists injured by moose on Anchorage Coastal Trail” as reported by the Alaska Dispatch News on Friday and  “Hikers survive moose attack in Kincaid Park” as reported by KTUU.com on Monday — are really the same incident involving the same two women.

And there was only one moose.

It thoroughly stomped Melanie Sandstrom and Catherine Dwinnell on Friday, but now appears to have gone back to innocently browsing along with the city’s hundreds of other moose.

What exactly sparked attack that left the two women broken and bruised will never be known, but there are suspicions they or their dog wandered too close to a cow with a newborn calf near a Kincaid pond not far off the Coastal Trail.

Moose will sometimes aggressively defend their calves, especially in the first few weeks of life.

“In late spring and summer, cow moose with young calves are very protective and will attack humans who come too close,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game warns. “If you see a calf and not a cow, be very careful, because you may have walked between them which is a very dangerous place to be.”

Sandstrom said Tuesday that she is sure the moose that attacked her and Dwinnell was a female, but the attack came so swiftly neither woman got a chance to look to see if there was a calf nearby.

On a warm, sunny Friday, the women had wandered off the paved Coastal Trail on one of several narrow footpaths that lead into the woods and brush. Dwinnell’s blue healer, a dog which remains missing as of this report, was with the women, but somewhere nearby out of sight in the brush.

As the women neared a pond just behind the Kincaid beach, Sandstrom said, a Fed Ex cargo jet began its approach to nearby Ted Stevens International Airport.

“We were both putting our hands up to cover our ears because of the noise,” she said, “and out of the corner of my eye I saw this moose pawing the ground. I said, ‘that moose is agitated.’

“And the next thing she just hit me full force.”

All of it happened that quick, Sandstrom added. There wasn’t even time for a second thought before she was on the ground getting kicked and still trying to sort out exactly what was going on.

“It takes a minute to register,” she said. “It’s just surreal.”

With Sandstrom quickly down and seemingly out of commission, the moose moved on to Dwinnell in a blink. Sandstrom remembers the dog showing up with the moose stomping Dwinnell, and Dwinnel being worried about that.

“She told her dog to go away,” Sandstrom said. “This is like her child.”

The dog left. The moose danced on Dwinnell for seconds that seemed like minutes. And then it backed off.

“I could hear her snorting behind us,” said Sandstrom, who decided then to sit up because she felt so vulnerable flat on the ground. That was a mistake.

“She came back and attacked me again,” the woman said. This time when the moose left Sandstrom decided it was best not to get up.

Instead, she said, “I rolled over into the pond and got under the bank. I just hid there. Catherine was hidden in the bushes.”

Seconds ticked by, maybe minutes, Sandstrom said. Finally the women started talking back and forth, wondering where the moose had gone and discussing whether it was safe to come out of hiding. Eventually they did.

Dwinnell was bleeding heavily from a leg wound. Sandstrom took off her sports bra and used it as a bandage. Then the two women began making their way back to the Coastal Trail. Dwinnell knew the trails in the area better than Sandstrom.

But “her glasses had been broken, so she couldn’t see well,” Sandstrom said.

Getting back to the Coastal Trail, a heavily traveled route in summer, required team work. Luckily, the first person they met when they got there was a nurse. Not long after, a doctor from Connecticut came by, Sandstrom said.

“People were wonderful,” she added. “Everyone was stopping to help. They gave us warm clothes.”

Someone called authorities and paramedics with the Anchorage Fire Department soon came to get the women with an all-terrain vehicle. Their injuries turned out to be painful, but not life threatening. Both women suffered cracked ribs and Dwinnell broke her wrist as well. Both were badly bruised.

Sandstrom was left tattooed with black and blue hoof prints.

“All the hoof prints are on my back,” she said. “I’m very sore, but very thankful. If it had to have happened, I’m thankful. I got off pretty lucky.”

After hundreds of encounters with Anchorage moose over the years and nary a problem, Sandstrom is still trying to sort out what went wrong this time.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with the dog,” she said. “I never saw the dog. I think we started it. (But) I don’t know. It happened so fast.”

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9 replies »

  1. What this story is really about is the arrogance and self-righteousness of dog people. Blue healers are cattle dogs. I’ve seen plenty of them behave aggressively toward moose. My theory is the dog triggered the moose’s attack on the women. Moose with calves do not like dogs. Unfortunately, the media has learned to tread lightly around dog people and the rejection of dog involvement is universal. Ever try to tell a dog person walking their dog on a groomed ski trail that it’s not multi-use? You get the same response when you tell one that their dog should be on a leash in the park. The day following the attack I saw a number of dogs off-leash in the same section of the trail. Let’s give the moose a break. There are so many bears in the park that few of the calves are surviving. They don’t need loose dogs on top of the bear problem.

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  2. Wait, so where precisely did this occur?

    ADN says, “in an area of Kincaid Park that’s technically airport land, near a mostly dried-up pond just east of Mile 7.5 of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. They were just west of a runway at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.” East of a mile marker on the Coastal Trail and west of a runway = down in the old gravel pit that now has the Sisson Loop ski trail going through it, with the Coastal Trail to the north and west of them.

    You write, “near a Kincaid pond between the Coastal Trail and the waters of Turnagain Arm. … [T]he women had wandered off the paved Coastal Trail on one of several narrow footpaths that lead down toward the Arm.” Which, unless I’m misreading this, suggests that they were just north of the Coastal Trail, headed down toward the beach.

    Obviously both of you talked with the same two women about the same incident, but one of you has them in the Sisson Loop, and one of you has them nearly on the beach. Which is it? (This isn’t dispositive for the story, but now I’m curious.)

    FWIW, the top picture on the ADN story sure looks to my eyes like it was taken from within the Sisson Loop gravel pit (and so is looking N/NW; if I’m right, then the Coastal Trail runs along the hill at the top of the picture). It’s captioned as “Catherine Dwinnell returned to the area near Kincaid Park where she was attacked by a moose on Friday” (though I don’t know who wrote the caption and how much they know).

    This is more words than this issue really deserves. But, as you note, geographical imprecision has plagued this story from the outset. And I certainly trust your sense of geography. So where were they?

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    • you have an excellent eye. as this was described to me by Sandstrom, they were to the west of the Coastal Trail, which would be the ocean side. but she also mentioned she did not know the area as well as her friend, and said it took a long time for AFD to get to them because the paramedics came in from near the Point Woronzof sewage treatment plant and were afraid to cross “the bridge” with a truck. that appeared odd given where Sandstrom indicated they were below the Kincaid chalet. it would make more sense if the women went north off the Coastal Trail on the unpaved trail just past the bottom of the Kincaid Hill and ended up near the Sisson Loop pond when the attack happened. and that is what the photo looks like. i’ll see if i can get one of the women to clarify.

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      • Thanks for the kind words, and for the direct response. I appreciate all of that.

        You’re obviously correct that “to the west of the Coastal Trail” = ocean side. But, as you note, that also doesn’t really mesh with concerns about crossing, or not crossing, the so-called Blue Bridge on the Coastal Trail. Nor really with a “mostly dried-up pond” (per the ADN), for that matter; both my own experience and Google Earth associate ponds with the Sisson Loop gravel pit, but not with the beach access.

        I think no one would disagree that several people – most significantly, the women and potential responders – were all confused about their precise location, and that this had an effect on response times. Thankfully not a calamitous effect in this case… but given different facts, or different injuries, it certainly could be. (I always here think back to Pete Basinger – full disclosure, a high school classmate and personal friend – giving pellucid directions to emergency personnel following the Petra Davis incident by Rover’s Run. There were comparable issues in that case with simply finding the would-be patient, as I recall.)

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  3. Like hell it wasn’t the dog – this has me pretty angry. My good friend was attacked and stomped the day before this incident in Kincaid Park. (There was no news report as she was able to leave on her own and not require hospitalization). Just before the attack, she was passed by a couple with two loose shepards. Of course the (likely) harrassed and defensive moose are going to go after the next rider. ALL dogs, including all your ‘well-behaved, special’ ones should be prohibited in Kincaid during calfing season. Can you all find somewhere else to exercise your dogs for two weeks every spring – and give the moose a break.

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    • Janelle: There is no evidence to indicate it was the dog in this case, but as a general rule, dogs do complicate the moose problem. It’s only fair to all other Kincaid Park users that dog owners keep their dogs on a leash, or in sight and under voice control at all times. And if they can’t keep the dog in sight and under voice control, it needs to be on the leash.

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    • You should be just as angry with yourself if you’re around moose this time of year – your presence doesn’t do them any favors either, and it’s just as likely to irritate a moose into attacking someone else later. It seems that you think YOU are the “special” one who doesn’t bother anything with your gracious presence.

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      • Tyler: That might be a stretch too far. A lot of Anchorage moose are very well conditioned to people and don’t perceive them as much of a threat. This is true of some, though clearly not all, cows with calves. I was sitting watching a pair from 20 feet the other night without the cow showing any sign of being at all disturbed by my presence. No moose with calves, at least none in my experience, are this tolerant of canines.

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