KUSA - Colorado Parks and Wildlife is issuing a warning to dog owners: if your pet chases wild animals, officers have authority to shoot it.
It's a little-known law that's been on the books for decades.
"We don't want to. That's not what anybody wants to do," Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said. "We all have dogs. We love dogs. They're part of the family. We understand that, but we also have an obligation to protect Colorado's wildlife."
Hampton said any law enforcement officer has authority to shoot, but that it's a last resort. Pet owners may also face a fine of $274.
Hampton said across Colorado, there are several reports of domestic dogs attacking wild animals every week. Recently, an elk calf was found mauled on someone's porch in Steamboat Springs. The calf was missing the bottom of its mouth and had to be put down.
Hampton said even a dog just chasing an animal is more dangerous than it may seem.
"What people have to realize is deer and elk spent the entire summer and fall consuming food. They fatten up," Hampton said. "What happens when your dog goes out and chases that deer, it utilizes some of [the deer's] energy, and that's the energy it needs to survive the winter in Colorado."
Many dog owners 9NEWS spoke with had never heard of the penalties.
"That would be really upsetting, because I think it's a natural instinct for dogs to chase animals," dog owner Tawna Parker said.
Jon Frohlich said he'd heard about the law only because he saw a post on a Colorado hiking website.
"When you're out in the wilderness with your dog, hopefully you take that into account and know that," Frolich said. "I think they need to make people more aware of it."
Wildlife officials said although it may be legal to let dogs run free in some recreation areas, they strongly recommend keeping pets on a leash whenever encounters with wild animals are likely.