Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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October 9, 2012
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Pet column: Safe encounters for pets and wildlife

Along with their human families, Tahoe pets share habitat with coyotes, bears, mountain lions, small and large rodents and more. Meetings can result in benign tolerance or bring tragedy to all parties. A dog can enrage a bear or cougar, leading it back to threaten people at a campsite. Any pet can transfer a wildlife disease to family members or a pet disease to wildlife. These are encounters of the too close kind. With awareness and respect, safe cohabitation is easy to achieve.

The scenario is simple. Wildlife is constantly involved in a struggle to survive. Maintaining energy requires an eternal search for food resources. Most wildlife is shy of humans. Coyotes famously - even in cities - adapt to people presence but still remain wary and easily scared off with noise and gestures. Backpack bells and cans filled with coins or gravel make enough noise to warn off bears. Humans turn the tables when failing to acknowledge the responsibility that comes with the privilege of living as part of a rich tapestry of life, a wild paradise for many species. Domestic pets become victims when presented as wildlife threats or offered as easy prey wandering loose or left outdoors alone.

The guidelines are simple. Let wildlife go about its daily business of searching for natural foods. Enter the forest aware that animal family homes are in the trees, under the willows, in caves and rock walls. If you were a bear or coyote where would your living room be? Where would you raise your young or rest between hunts? Respect both wildlife and shared territory, and secure human territory. Protect pets with common sense habits. Keep dogs always in view, best always on leash. Small dogs, cats or other pets cannot be left on their own outside the home. Not in the yard. Not in a hutch. Not roaming free. They become prey, fair game for wild neighbors including owls, hawks and eagles. They also can transform into predators themselves, capable of attacking and torturing wildlife and killing birds. A video released by San Francisco Animal Care and Control shows an unleashed dog harassing worried, non aggressive coyotes guarding their den in Golden Gate Park. The dog owner just watched, failing to "get it." Even urbanized wildlife is an invaluable part of that ecosystem.

Pets can contract illness or become carriers from wildlife interactions, eating caught prey or found carcasses or feces. They can bring zoonotic illness home from wild rabbits, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, rodents, coyotes and their parasites.

Pets - and humans - transmit diseases to wildlife as well. That's another reason to pick up and pack out dog and human waste from the outdoors. The U.S. Geological Survey created the One Health program "to attain optimal health for people and animals by promoting global collaboration between human and veterinary medicine while engaging the principles of public health and ecosystem health." The venerable Merck Veterinary Manual online 9th edition, addresses the deaths of veterinarians in western states from plague transmitted from domestic and wild animals they treated.

Close encounters are inevitable as humans and their pets venture into wilderness, crossing natural boundaries and effectively eliminating isolated wild animal territory. Rather than introducing new threats, a thoughtful and peaceful coexistence benefits every species, maintaining a diverse, thriving and healthy ecosystem - a true Tahoe paradise.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.-


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Oct 9, 2012 01:35AM Published Oct 9, 2012 01:32AM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.