Keep them safe: pets and wildlife
November 7, 2018
Colorado is a beautiful place. It is filled with open, wild spaces, and that unbridled nature is why many of us live here. With open, wild spaces comes wildlife. Lately, our local news has been filled with sightings of mountain lions and foxes in our own backyards. Much of this is attributed to human development encroaching on their habitat. As winter approaches, they need to hunt a lot now to survive later. Learning how to coexist with these non-domesticated critters is essential if you’re a pet owner.
Most cats love to be outside, because they love to hunt. Your household feather duster hasn’t got what it takes to satiate Fluffy’s instincts when there are birds and squirrels outside her window. However, letting Fluffy outside is setting her up to be a snack for a coyote, a fox or a mountain lion. The signs for missing cats plastered on street lamp posts are abundant this time of year, when predatory animals are trying to build up their fat stores for winter. The Left Hand Valley is also blessed with fantastic birds of prey, but it’s important to understand that a large hawk, eagle or owl could snatch up your feline friend and fly her home for a feast without any regard for her place in your heart. For them, it’s just dinner.
The best solution? Keep your cat indoors. If you can’t bear to do it all the time, then keep her indoors from early dusk until late morning. There are special cages that can be easily attached to your windows, so that your cat can enjoy fresh air and sunshine without endangering herself or others (birds and small animals). A lone cat is no match for even one coyote, let alone a well-trained pack of skilled, hungry predators.
A Heatherwood resident recently reported that his puppy encountered a fox in the backyard during a late-night potty break. Letting small dogs of any age out into a fenced yard at night is risky, so it is best to supervise them with a flashlight or keep them leashed while they do their business. If a raccoon or fox is rummaging around in the dark corners of your yard, being surprised and cornered by a dog probably won’t end well for the dog. Supervision is key.
Most Left Hand Valley residents can hear the coyotes howling, yipping and even laughing some evenings. This back-and-forth “group-yip-howl” is a way for a group of coyotes to reunite, claim territory so that they don’t have to rumble with other coyote groups, and disperse as they go off to hunt. However, these wild canines have such a broad range of vocalizations that they tend to attract off-leash dogs with their songs. While it’s an urban myth that a pack of coyotes will lure a dog to its death, an off-leash domestic dog can get riled up and chase after those yappy wild dogs. If your dog gets too close to a pack of coyotes, he might get killed. That’s not nefarious of the coyotes; it’s opportunism. The safe practice is to keep your dog on a leash during that dusk to dawn time frame, when his chances of encountering these predators is greatest.
You’ll never convince any of us who have owned backyard chickens that these silly fowl aren’t pets. Backyard chicken farming has grown in popularity over the past 10 years, and now owning a handful of chickens is no longer a novelty hobby. However, those nice fat hens are an dinner invitation to foxes, raccoons and coyotes who can deftly hop over or squeeze under a fence. Most chicken-snatchings happen at night, so be sure that all your girls are accounted for and locked up securely for the night. It’s also a good idea to leave them in a pen during the day if no one is typically home. Having activity around the house in the daytime will discourage most predators, but if there’s no human activity and a handful of tasty birds milling around the backyard, a starving fox will grow bold quickly.
In the true spirit of coexisting, we need to keep wildlife safe, too. Almost 20 percent of injured wildlife brought into rehab facilities were hurt by a cat or dog, not to mention the countless orphans created when their parents are killed by household pets. A 2013 study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggested that free-ranging domestic cats kill an estimated 1.3 to 4 billion birds and 6.3 to 22.3 billion mammals (such as rabbits, voles, mice, shrews) annually. Keeping cats inside not only keeps them safe, but it keeps the wildlife safe.
And while the seemingly annoyed felines and leashing of dogs might feel inconvenient, it is only fair that we try and share this great place with those that were likely here before we were.