Size Matters — Smaller Pets Need Bigger Supervision

By Martha Michael >>>

It’s simple math: the higher the number of wild animals in the neighborhood, the fewer the number of small pets that survive.

But if you’re a small animal lover, the only equation you care about is one and one: you + your pet.

We work so hard to protect our pets – shots and well-checks, buying them the best food, rattlesnake training. The last thing we want is to lose them to a natural predator.

Yes, size matters when it comes to pet ownership in Southern California, but it cuts both ways. While smaller pets have a disadvantage in communities shared with certain wildlife animals, there’s also safety in numbers. And pet owners have an opportunity to band together in a program promoted by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. They can form a “Wildlife Watch Group.”

Patterned after the “Neighborhood Watch” groups that formed decades ago to minimize crime through shared awareness,pet owners cancollaborate in the same way. Resident sare joining forces with neighbors for these educational collaborations with the shared purpose of minimizing problems incurred by living among wildlife.

In an article by Donna Littlejohn in the Daily Breeze last summer, the Wildlife Watch program in San Pedro was described as an attempt to quell the conflict between residents and coyotes. San Pedro’s Coastal Neighborhood Council heard from Fish & Wildlife officials to consider being one of the first communities in the Southland to use the strategy. “We have a very aggressive training program and we would be more than happy to set up meetings,” said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the Department of Fish & Wildlife. “There are all kinds of great resources to use free of charge.”

The groups enable neighbors to share information and work together to ward off animals that prey on their pets. And coyotes are number one, according to Hughan.

“There’s certainly a tremendous amount of coyote activity,” Hughan said. “But it’s not a new phenomenon, by any means. We need more awareness. People are out there feeding them, leaving food and water out for coyotes. It’s dumb and dangerous.”

Coyotes have become unnaturally bold as a result of residents feeding them. It’s not a good idea, because it encourages them to spend more time near homes, which makes domestic pets more vulnerable.

“We are their chief enemy,” says Native Animal Rescue of Santa Cruz County. “It has been estimated that 30-50 percent of all adult coyotes die each year from human-related causes.”

This is where Wildlife Watch comes in, educating homeowners and changing detrimental habits.

“Reduce the attraction – don’t just leave pet food out, keep it inside,” Hughan advised. “There’s generally plenty of food for them to eat in nature – rodents, etc. But they’re going to go for the easy meal.”

One of the benefits to living among coyotes is the natural rodent control they provide. They also eat insects, which can save farmers and homeowners from suffering the destruction of their vegetation.

The website for The Humane Society of the United States claims many suburban residents are unaware that coyotes live among them. But it is an assumption that can be dangerous for pets.

“Coyotes typically hunt small mammals such as mice … and rabbits,” says the website. “If given the opportunity, they will also make a meal of a cat, tame or feral. Dogs, especially smaller breeds, are also at risk, although attacks on them are more rare.”

Your pets are safer, of course, if you only let them outside when they are with you, on a leash.

Taken from the Humane Society book “Wild Neighbors,” the website offers pet owners the following advice:

Protecting your pet cat
When you allow your cat to roam freely outdoors, even for short periods of time, you expose her to perils such as cars, dogs, diseases, coyotes, poisons, and cruel people. If you want your cat to be safe, keep her indoors.

Some people let their cats outside because they mistakenly believe it’s cruel to keep cats indoors. The truth is that cats who are protected from the dangers outside live longer, happier lives.

Protecting feral cat colonies
People who feed feral cats are often concerned that coyotes might prey on the cats. These concerns are well-founded, as coyotes will be attracted to both the outdoor pet food and the cats themselves as prey. Here are some general suggestions for keeping such cats safer:

Feed cats only during the day and at a set time – and pick up any leftovers immediately
Provide escape routes for cats. In treeless or open areas, erect “cat posts” – long pieces of wood (four inches by four inches or corner posts) that stand out of the ground at least ten to twelve feet. These can be climbed by cats, but not by coyotes
Elevate feeding stations beyond coyotes’ – but not the cats’ – reach
Discourage/harrass coyotes seen on the property. Go after them aggressively. … Making them feel uncomfortable will encourage them to stay out of the area.

Protecting dogs
Dogs (especially small dogs) are also vulnerable to coyote confrontations. These incidents generally involve coyotes who are accustomed or habituated to people (usually due to wildlife feeding), or coyotes who are protecting their territory and pups (usually during breeding season).

Dogs (especially small dogs) should not be left outside unattended, should never be chained and should always be kept on a leash in public areas. It is important to never let your dog interact or play with a coyote. Pet food and water should be kept indoors to avoid attracting coyotes to your yard.

The Humane Society adds that when coyotes feel their territory is threatened they may attack larger dogs. It is rare, and mostly occurs during breeding season – between January and March.

The Humane Society has suggestions for homeowners who want to create a distance between coyotes and their pets. Fences need to be at least six feet tall and installed six inches below ground, because coyotes both jump over and dig under barriers. There is a device called a “coyote roller,” a 4-foot aluminum piece that minimizes the ability of wildlife to get into your yard. You can also add chicken wire to the tops of fences or add a mesh apron to the bottom of the fence.

“They’ll continue to have a presence until homeowners’ behavior changes,” Officer Hughan said. “The number one thing is ‘be responsible for your pets.’”

Sharing the land with its native residents is a lot more charming when we keep in mind its benefits. The goal is to peacefully coexist with wildlife – after all, they lived here before we did!