By Josh O’Gorman
ROCHESTER, VT—Wardens with Vermont Fish and Wildlife said it was the kindness of strangers that ultimately led to Rocky’s death.
The yearling Moose, known to locals as Rocky, died last week, and his death underscored the danger of domesticating a wild animal and highlighted a philosophical difference between veterinary care and wildlife management.
Last September, the then 5-month-old male Moose made himself at home on the property of Michael and Wendy Andrews about 4 miles east of the Brandon Notch, VT. While the Moose was first spotted just up the road, he was attracted to the Andrews’ apple trees, Wendy Andrews said.
A Moose his age would normally be with his mother until May, said Col. Robert Rooks, director of law enforcement for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Many locals speculated that a car had hit his mother and the orphaned Moose attracted the curious and the well-intentioned alike.
Andrews said that while she was not home during the day, on the weekends, when the Moose would draw a large crowd, she would go outside and ask people not to feed him.
The Moose had apparently lost his fear of people, who would park by the side of the road and hand-feed him apples, oranges, bananas and doughnuts, she said, adding as word spread of the Moose more and more people arrived bringing more and more food.
Sunday, Andrews said, was a particularly busy day, with the road lined with cars and people feeding Rocky food a Moose would not ordinarily eat. By Sunday evening, Andrews said, the Moose had come to lie down on the deck next to their kitchen and didn’t look well. Andrews said that when she came outside Monday morning Rocky was lying under the apple trees with his legs splayed out.
“I thought he had been hit by a car,” Andrews said. Andrews called friends who in turn called a veterinarian asking what could be done.
Andrews said the veterinarian advised giving the Moose Gatorade and Pepto Bismol, which she administered to Rocky using a plastic bag with a long straw called a calf feeder. Andrews said that she had used a calf feeder before on cows and when she gave Rocky the fluids he “seemed to perk up for a little bit.”
By Monday evening, however, Rocky still languished on the ground. Andrews covered him with a large piece of gray carpet for warmth and checked him periodically overnight.
By Tuesday morning, the unseasonable warmth of the previous day had receded and temperatures hovered in the low 20s. By noon Lt. Douglas Lawrence, a game warden with the Fish and Wildlife Department, and Warden Chris Connor had arrived on the scene.
Lawrence and Connor had to assess the Moose from about 50 ft. away as they stood by the side of the road. Lawrence said that Michael Andrews had told Fish and Wildlife officials to stay off his property.
As they waited, Lawrence placed the blame squarely on the people who had fed him a diet of fruit, oats and doughnuts. Lawrence said Moose are browsers and subsisted on a diet of browse.
“It would be analogous to us living on Twinkies,” Lawrence said of the food given to Rocky. “It tastes good but you can’t live on it.”
Lawrence said that Fish and Wildlife had discussed relocating Rocky in the spring, but said in the winter there was no place they could transport him that wasn’t within half a mile of a house.
At 1:10 p.m. veterinarian Dr. Keely Henderson arrived to check Rocky’s condition. Henderson looked over the Moose, took his temperature and then met with Lawrence and Connor. He looks like he’s dying, Henderson said. To live, he needs to be brought somewhere warm and he needs fluids. Lawrence told Henderson that Fish and Wildlife prohibits anyone from treating big game.
“We manage herds, not individuals,” Lawrence said. Lawrence told Henderson she could euthanize Rocky but could not treat him.
At 1:50 p.m. Henderson left for another house call. At 2:42 p.m. Andrews attempted to administer more fluids to Rocky. Later she said as she tried to roll him over she saw that one of his legs was frozen, his torso was swollen and he was having trouble breathing.
At 2:50 p.m. Andrews told Connor that she wanted him to euthanize the Moose. She then got in her truck and left.
“I don’t want to be here when he does it,” Andrews said.
Connor said he had received word from his supervisor that a wildlife biologist had to examine the moose before euthanasia. At 3:44 p.m. the biologist arrived, and after a cursory examination a game warden euthanized the Moose with a single rifle bullet at 3:50 p.m.
The Moose was dragged with a winch to the back of a truck, where Lawrence said it would be transported to Fish and Wildlife in Royalton. Lawrence said a cursory autopsy would be performed.
Andrews returned home shortly thereafter and was greeted by well-wishers Jane Chase of Stockbridge and Tom and Helen Lennon of Sudbury. The four of them went into Andrews’s home and discussed what had transpired over the past few months.
“You did everything anybody could have done,” Helen Lennon told Andrews. “Who else would have done this for a wild animal?”
Andrews spoke of Warden Connor’s kindness during the ordeal.
“His compassion today, his kindness, it made all the difference,” Andrews said.