CANMORE – Countless stories dating back millennia tell of the companionship and devotion of man’s best friend, but a local dog’s loyalty took a bit of a different twist when he refused to leave the side of a dying elk for the remaining hours of its life.
The old bull elk, which had been given many nicknames by residents, including Marvin, died in the early morning hours of Friday (May 1) after spending several days in Derek and Beate West’s large backyard on Grotto Way in Canmore.
“Marvin’s been in our yard many times over the last couple of months and he and Angus were like buddies,” said Derek, referring to his eight-year-old Siberian husky that seldom left the elk’s side in the remaining four days of its life.
The elk, which showed up in the West’s backyard for the last time earlier in the week, gradually grew weaker in the days leading up to its death, only drinking from a pail of water Derek had filled for him.
By the second day, the bull elk was having trouble getting up, and by the third day he couldn't get up at all, other than to move around into different positions under the shade of a tree.
Derek said Angus lay next to the dying elk for much of the week, but would typically go inside the house at night with the West’s other dog Zeke, an Alaskan malamute cross – but he would not leave the elk’s side that final day.
“I came out about one o'clock in the morning and I found him about about two to three feet away from Marvin and he was just lying there watching him,” said Derek.
“I could not coax Angus to leave him at all; he just wouldn’t go. Marvin was breathing very, very shallowly at that point. He probably died sometime during the next two hours.”
Over the past few months, the bull elk, who recently shed his antlers, was more frequently seen coming into residential neighbourhoods, making the rounds of some of the yards in Grotto Village and Cougar Creek.
“When he first started showing up a couple of months ago, he stayed in the yard anywhere from about 18 hours to a couple of days, and during that period, Angus, who spends all his time outside, would spend a lot of time with Marvin,” said Derek.
“You’d see Angus walk underneath Marvin and one day I watched Marvin chasing him and give him a little touch on the butt with his nose, and then turn around with Angus chasing him,” he added.
“Angus would just kind of hang with him. It wasn’t unusual to see them lying two or three feet apart from each other. The elk never felt threatened by Angus. They really were like buddies.”
When the elk returned again last week to Grotto Way, Derek and Beate didn’t have the hearts to chase him out of their yard, knowing that he was looking for a peaceful place to die.
“We never had anything for him because we didn’t want to encourage him to stay, but we weren't going to chase him out either,” said Derek, noting Marvin wasn’t moving well.
“He was comfortable and relaxed here, so if he wanted a little respite he was welcome to it.”
The old elk became well known throughout the Cougar Creek area. After his death was shared on the Bow Valley Community Connection Facebook page, 87 people shared their own stories and photos of the elk that spent the last winter in many yards.
Locals described him as a “cool due,” “gentle soul” and “a true Canmore legend.” His various nicknames given to him by residents include Marvin, Buck, Wilbur and Bart among others.
Lisa Young, who has known of the elk for about four years after he first began showing up at the riding club in Canmore, was the one to post news of the elk’s death.
Young said he’d developed a limp and was having trouble getting around in the snow, noting many people knew of him from the riding club, as well as Grotto Village and Cougar Creek residential areas.
“My feeling on him was it was a safe zone. If you’re an old elk with a limp, something could eat you,” said Young.
“He’d figured out that if he stayed in this area, he was pretty safe.”
The elk had been sleeping in Young’s paddock quite regularly and she was becoming a bit worried about him.
“Then when he left, he’s been in a couple of yards and I think he was looking for a place to die,” she said. “He wasn’t feeling well and they let him stay and didn’t chase him out.”
Young figures he had been sick for some time, noting he’d been losing weight despite getting into the horses’ hay.
“One friend also had him down in her paddock most of the winter, living with her old mare, and they sleep together and hung out together,” she said.
“He was one of those elk that we didn't have to worry too much about him chasing people and attacking dogs or anything. Everybody got along and he was a nice old guy.”
Given that the elk died on private property, Alberta’s fish and wildlife officers contacted the Town of Canmore’s bylaw services to remove the carcass, as it had the potential to attract other wildlife.
“With the assistance of our streets and roads department, we removed the fence in order to be able to remove the animal from the property,” said Robyn Dinnadge, communications manager for the Town of Canmore, in an email.
“Fish and Wildlife officers advised that the proper procedure to disposal of the carcass – while not attracting wildlife – was to take it to the Okotoks landfill site. The elk was laid to rest and buried there.”