My friend Diane called the other day to chat about several pet-related concerns that had come to her attention, and that was a good reminder to me about a problem that we still have here in Lawrence, especially this time of year.
While our country is not exactly still living Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis, new construction in many cities and towns across the United States is still pushing our boundaries into the forests and plains surrounding us. Every year we hear stories from other states about bears and deer who, having lost their natural habitats, start wandering into towns, causing panic and damage as they try to find enough food to survive.
We’re witness to the same thing here in Lawrence, only on a smaller scale. Probably all of us have heard, if not seen, coyotes around Clinton Parkway. I even saw one a year or two ago crossing 15th Street in the area of the Lied Center.
Birds of prey (raptors and owls) are also prevalent in the area. Another friend of mine who lives near the Holcom Sports Complex by the Kansas Highway 10 bypass has commented in the past of a particularly noisy owl who sometimes perches on her roof around midnight to survey the scene and loudly announce his findings.
While it’s an unfortunate situation, this blending of people and wild animals also poses another problem that we pet owners need to keep in mind: Wild hunters don’t always make a distinction between wild prey and domestic. If the normal wild food sources, which they prefer, are in short supply during the season, anything on four legs that’s catchable is fair game, so to speak.
I’ve heard more than my share of stories of pets just disappearing from back yards after the owners heard a single piercing scream from their dog or cat. This happens more commonly around areas that border undeveloped land and at houses that back up to golf courses.
Small domestic pets are particularly vulnerable. Just a week ago I read an amazing story of a toy poodle who fell from the sky into the yard of a nursing home north of Vancouver, Canada, with claw marks in her back from where she had struggled away from the raptor who had seized her. This particular little girl had had quite an adventure: The vets who examined her determined that she had either been in an abusive situation or been a stray for quite some time, given her overall poor physical condition.
This dog’s fortunate escape from the bird resulted in her ultimate rescue and hope for a full recovery, but it also points out the problem — small animals in particular can be at risk. This doesn’t mean that our larger dogs won’t also try to tangle with a coyote caught trespassing. Sometimes these dogs become so determined to guard their property that they’ll scale a fence to tangle with a predator.
Remember that the phrase “eagle eye” isn’t just a phrase. Owls and raptors are silent and swift. They can detect the slightest movement, and they can be watching when we don’t know they’re around. I remember seeing a video clip of a little boy who had taken his hamster out of its cage in the back yard to let it stretch, and the camera caught the sad scene as a raptor swooped down and snatched up the family pet right in front of the startled boy and his father.
What do we do to safeguard our pets, particularly if we have cats or small dogs?
California deals with this problem more consistently than we do. Freelance writer Ruth Stroud interviewed William Taber, a wildlife officer from the SPCA in Pomona, about the problem. In her resulting article for the L.A. Times, Taber told Stroud that the best way to protect against coyotes and other large predators is to keep pets inside, especially at night or in a fenced-in area. He also recommended that the fence be at least 6 feet high and that a roller-top extension be added to keep any incoming animals out. In addition, Stroud’s article offered the following helpful suggestions that can be used here in the Midwest:
• Install motion-detector lights along the perimeter of your property, because most wild animals tend to shy away from lighted areas.
• Feed pets inside.
• Spay and neuter your pets to prevent them roaming and getting into turf wars.
• Dispose of ripe fruit on trees or on the ground that might attract coyotes, or rodents, which in turn attract larger predators.
• Trim overgrown trees and bushes that may provide cover for coyotes.
• Remove birdfeeders, since they also draw rabbits, squirrels, mice and gophers.
Mostly, we just need to be vigilant. Take precautions, stay aware, and keep your furry family safe this summer.