Protect your dogs from wild animals

Full grown Pomsky owner Cathie Cyr keeps an eye on the sky when she goes outdoors with her pets. She lives near a pond where hawks congregate, and she’s concerned a bird of prey might swoop down and snatch one of her five pound dogs. So, Cyr does not let Wyatt or Davey, her little Pomeranian, go outside alone. She prevents the “air raid” simply by accompanying the pets outdoors and staying close by, even in her own backyard. That simple solution, animal experts say, is absolutely the best way to keep wild animals at bay. “It’s common sense,” said Linda Huebner, advocacy director with the Massachusetts Society for Prevention against Cruelty to Animals. “Don’t let animals out alone. Don’t leave small animals out unsupervised.” When wild animals attack, the consequences can be devastating to both pets and wildlife, she said.

In the Northeast, the coyote probably is responsible for most wild animal on pet attacks, according to Dr. Mike Pavletic, an authority on veterinary reconstructive surgery. “I have seen it,” he said. But in the western states, the cougar is the number one culprit, and in the South, it’s alligators. “The alligator attacks a dog, and the animal disappears,” he said. “That’s it.”

In Maine, veterinarians have seen dogs that cornered black bears and were clawed, he added, and he has “occasionally” treated pets injured by raccoons and, even, by a skunk. Days after Toto, the boxer, tangled with a skunk and crept home reeking, Dr. Pavletic saw him in the emergency room at Boston’s Angell Animal Medical Center. The dog was in agony. Toto’s fur hid the puncture wounds initially, but his face had been mauled. The five-year-old dog needed surgery immediately, so Dr. Pavletic, who in 2008 reattached a cat’s face after it was caught in a car’s fan belt, had to bring the infection under control and then restore missing tissue on the side of the dog’s face. The wound was substantial, he said. Almost one entire side of Toto’s face, stretching from the corner of his lips back to the eye and ear, was gone, Dr. Pavletic said. Toto is now recovering, but other pets have not been so lucky. And the wildlife also may face danger after these encounters.

Earlier this year in Middletown, R.I., for example, authorities hired a hunter to shoot a “rogue” coyote pack after a cat went missing and residents suspected one of the coyotes had killed it and probably other pets and farm animals. So far, the hunter has slain about 40 coyotes. Last month in Newton, Mass., a coyote killed Cody, a Yorkshire terrier, in front of his owner, Deb Toyias. Toyias has since organized a task force to educate the public about the coyote threat. She has also started a petition to change Massachusetts trapping laws so more coyotes can be caught and killed. The MSPCA opposes traps, Rob Halpin, spokesman for MSPCA-Angell, said, citing concerns most traps will ensnare pets or injure people. Plus, traps have proven no match against the wily coyotes. “Coyotes have been subjected to every form of killing in our power,” he said. “They have responded by increasing their population and their range.” “Coyotes have the image of the big, bad wolf,” Huebner said. “Anytime a free roaming cat goes missing, blame the coyote.”

But people have created the conflict with coyotes, Huebner said. Unwittingly, humans invite wild animals into their yards by leaving out food – in bird feeders, composting piles and garbage bags. “Wild animals need food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young,” she said. “In the suburbs, we inadvertently supply them.” For instance, sheds and crawl spaces under porches provide dens for skunks and raccoons, she said. By planting shrubs, she said, people feed the deer. Allowing trees to overhang the roof is on a par with building a path for chipmunks and squirrels to your attic through the vent. Fail to cap the chimney, and owls and hawks will find a warm place to nest. By removing the attractions from their property, people could end most wildlife on pet confrontations. In her view, coyotes are “not even true predators” and when one does attack, people react in fear, then imagine the danger is more prevalent that the reality and respond with a plan to hunt down wildlife, she said. Statistics about wild animal attacks are not kept, Huebner said, so it’s difficult to say how many such attacks happen and if they are on an upswing. State health departments do keep data on rabies testing, providing one imperfect way to estimate the number of wild animal encounters. Also, veterinary hospitals keep records of injured wildlife.

This past August, for example, Angell Animal Medical Center treated four rabbits, one songbird and one pigeon injured by cats and one sea bird attacked by a dog. Wild animal attacks on family pets probably happen less often than pet attacks on wild animals, Dr. Pavletic said, but concerned pet owners can protect both their animals and wildlife by not allowing their dogs and cats out to roam.

“Be vigilant,” he said, and don’t overlook the obvious, such as the fact an invisible fence will not keep wildlife out of the yard. Huebner said perimeter fences around the yard help, but the fences have to be “buried” so an animal can’t dig under or climb over and sneak in. Also, if pets or animals, such as chickens, are staying outdoors in pens, the enclosure needs a top. The MSPCA has information on its web site at http://www.mspca.org with tips about how to wildlife proof the yard, she said. “The trick is basically to figure out which animals live in your area,” she said, and then make a plan.

As for Toto, his prognosis is good, Dr. Pavletic said. He used basically the same surgical techniques to reconstruct the dog’s face as he has applied in cancer cases and burns. “It’s always in stages,” he said. Dr. Pavletic brought the infection under control, removed the dead tissue, dressed the wound; and when the scar tissue formed, he closed the wound with skin grafted from Toto’s neck. The dog was hospitalized for less than a week, he said, and is doing well.

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