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Dirty Dogs

Free ranging cats and dogs frustrate outdoorsmen and environmentalists

By: Don Mulligan, OutdoorChannel.com

Domestic cats and dogs kill and maim more than a billion birds and mammals in The United States every year. And despite several studies outlining the wanton destruction our pets inflict on indigenous species year round, frustrated outdoorsmen, farmers, educators and environmentalists have few choices in some states to remedy the problem legally.

A 1990 University of Wisconsin study revealed that a single free ranging domestic cat could kill over 1,000 wild animals per year. Nationwide, there are over 60 million rural cats alone.  

Kills made by urban cats were not even counted.

The study made no distinction between the killing prowess of the more wild, feral cat, and the common household pet out for the afternoon either. They both proved to be equally efficient killers, even when declawed.

In addition, the study said that worldwide, cats are to blame for the extinction of more bird species than any other cause other than habitat destruction. Currently, they are contributing to the endangerment of birds like the Least Tern, and some varieties of marsh rabbits.

Domestic cats have infected the endangered Florida Panther with feline distemper, and even transmitted diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis to humans.

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Domestic cats and dogs are considered “super predators,” by most biologists, and are the top-of-the-line predators in the Midwest. They quickly learn to hunt near bird feeders and food stations, and on vulnerable nesting birds and mammals in the spring.  

Late winter is a time of survival for wildlife, with food and fat reserves getting low.  

Even when wildlife outruns a cat or dog, it uses valuable energy needed for survival or reproduction. Wild animals simply cannot compete with a domestic animal that is well fed and spends its days sleeping in a heated garage.

Ground nesting birds like quail are especially vulnerable to being killed on the nest by domestic cats. Studies have shown that even well fed house cats destroy nests for no apparent reason.

Domestic dogs on the other hand, do not kill a billion wild animals in this country every year. Instead, according to a study done by The Colorado Division of Wildlife, they kill part of the time, and maim wild animals the rest of the time.

“Single dogs are not always a threat to wildlife, but instinctually they team up with neighborhood dogs and form packs. That is when the hunter/killer urge surfaces in them,” according to Lonnie Brown of The CDOW.

Brown said that most dog owners do not realize that when a dog chases down a deer, they often do not know what to do with it. Unlike coyotes, which are efficient killers, dogs often chew off the animal’s ears and nose, and the wild animal really suffers.

And contrary to some dog owners belief that fluffy could never actually catch an animal as big as a deer, Brown said they documented two dogs killing 12 elk in one single day. There are also cases of dog kills on bighorn sheep there as well.

No Easy Answers

Frustrated by the wanton loss of game, recreational time and property damage caused by uncontrolled pets, many landowners and hunters have adopted the shoot, shovel and shut up approach to trespassing cats and dogs.

There are problems with that approach, however.

Besides being distasteful, killing dogs is illegal in most states by anyone except law enforcement.

In all states, dogs are assigned property status. As such, they are subject to regulation as needed to protect the health and safety of all citizens.

Some states allow a private citizen to kill a dog when it is damaging livestock or threatening a person, but even then, some do not. By law, dogs are all presumed to be harmless, and there must be strong evidence otherwise if the case of defense of self or livestock is to be made.

The only legal remedy hunters and landowners have in states where law enforcement will not intervene, and it is against the law to kill a wildlife killing animal, is to capture the animal live.

Unbelievably, in some states dog owners have the right to trespass on private land to retrieve their dogs, however. And they can do so every day if they choose.

This rule has been abused in places like Michigan, where landowners claim bad dog owners intentionally use their dogs to gain access to private property.

In many other states, while a landowner cannot kill a marauding pack of dogs, regardless of the damage they do, the dog owner cannot trespass to retrieve them either. Indiana is one of those states.

In these places, if the dogs can be trapped, the landowner can sue the dog owner civilly for his time and expense.

The best answer to the problem is better cat and dog owners, but that is impossible to legislate. Legislation simply cannot remedy stupidity or domestic animal problems in the country where people routinely dump their pets out of selfishness.

To understand and comply with destructive pet laws, it is necessary to look and both state and county laws, as they vary wildly from one municipality to the next.

In the end, building dense cover for wildlife and reasoning with selfish neighbors may be the only long-term fix.

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