While some residents view elk walking through their yard as a natural wonder, one family says it has become a living nightmare.
The McNeeleys of Star Valley report one of their dogs was gorged to death two weeks ago after a herd of elk trampled through their back yard.
The culprit for the flood of elk: nearby residents feeding them.
After living off Moonlight Drive for nearly 40 years, Melani McNeeley said she has never seen such an influx of elk in the area and never had a problem with them coming through her fenced back yard. While she enjoys viewing them in the forest and even hearing their calls echoing through the forest at night, she does not appreciate when they kill her pets.
McNeeley worries another dog will be injured or worse, a person, if residents do not start treating the elk like wild animals instead of pets.
State Game and Fish officials agree elk pose a problem in the area, especially The Knolls neighborhood, where residents have been seen feeding the elk — some from their hands.
“It is real important that people understand that wild animals are wild animals,” said David Daniels, wildlife manager with Game and Fish. “It is a danger to people and animals to feed them.”
Some residents have reported seeing children as young as 8 hand-feeding the 1,000-pound beasts.
While normally well-behaved herbivores, they are still unpredictable wild animals, officials say.
While it is legal in Gila County to feed wildlife, it is strongly discouraged, Daniels said.
Feeding elk can lead to a host of problems, both for the animal and humans.
“When we let wild animals get that domesticated, it can start to get real dangerous,” he said.
In June, an elk attacked one woman in her front yard as she watered her garden off Tyler Parkway. Just recently, an elk was found dead in The Knolls area.
Officials do not know yet what killed that elk and are waiting for the results of tests, but diet could have had something to do with its death.
More often, people are setting out feeders with grains and feed commonly given to horses and domestic animals, in hopes of attracting elk to their neighborhood.
And the plan has worked, Daniels said.
As many as 60 elk have been seen in yards, on the golf course or on the road in The Knolls. The path to the neighborhood from the woods leads through McNeeley’s yard.
About a month ago, McNeeley said she started seeing more and more elk coming through on their way to The Knolls.
In the middle of the night on Nov. 8, the McNeeleys heard a horrible commotion in their back yard.
When they went out to their porch, they found Bubbles, their son’s 5-year-old Australian shepherd, crushed, her eye nearly knocked out.
They rushed the dog to the vet and had the eye patched up. However, the next day, the dog began breathing shallowly. X-rays revealed the dog’s lungs were filled with fluid and needed immediate surgery. After surgery, Bubbles’ lungs filled up again, and again.
After the third surgery and spending $800, a veterinarian said the dog could not survive the injuries.
McNeeley says she is “mad beyond belief” that people are feeding the elk and hopes they stop before another one of her four dogs dies.
For now, she is keeping her dogs inside at night, but worries it could happen to someone else.
Recently, Daniels and other Game and Fish officials went door to door to every home in The Knolls asking neighbors to stop feeding the elk. The message seems to have set in.
“So far, most people have stopped feeding in The Knolls, but it is going to take a while for (the elk) to leave the area,” Daniels said. “Most people were pretty receptive to the message. They understood what we were asking, even though maybe they don’t like it.”
Only one man was mad after he was asked to stop setting out food, Daniels said.
For now, the neighborhood has become a sort of safe haven for the wild animals.
With abundant food and hunters banned from shooting in a neighborhood, the elk have taken to the area.
But when you have wild animals mingling with humans, it is extremely dangerous, he said.
McNeeley understands there is very little she can do to stop the elk from coming through her yard, except build a bigger fence. It is illegal for anyone without the proper permit to kill an elk.
McNeeley has appealed to the Game and Fish Commission, asking it to consider putting a ban on feeding wildlife. She is waiting to hear back.
“It is not illegal to feed the elk so people are within their rights, but what are our rights?” she said.
“We think it is unfair that our son Shadrach’s dog Bubbles was so brutally attacked in her own yard. This is our property to call home and home to our animals.”