There is no relationship in the natural world like that of human beings and our pet dogs. We have coexisted in time for so long, that we can instinctively communicate with each other, across species lines. They look us in the eye to know if we’re happy or sad; when they bark, we can automatically tell if they’re distressed, excited, or just want attention. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we use this relationship and ability for the better.
Dogs are the result of the domestication of the gray wolf (Canis lupus). Artificial selection has allowed us to tame them over time, as well as determine the size, color, and skill of our individual dogs. Although our backyard buddy is a major part of our family and we treat him like a human being in our minds, the local wildlife only see the predatory canid from which your dog is descended. A lot of times, your dog sees the local wildlife as prey, as they would do in the wild.
I’ve said all of that to say this: A major portion of wildlife rehabilitation cases are due to interactions with domestic predatory pets, cats and dogs. Dog and cat attacks can cause fatal injury to animals as light and quick as birds, to sturdy, hard-shelled turtles and tortoises.
Florida wildlife can also be dangerous to your pets: Predators like coyotes or panthers will kill pets if the opportunity presents itself. There are many species that are toxic to pets. This includes venomous snakes, but more realistically applies to the invasive giant marine toad (Bufo marinus). Many animals may also carry a disease that could harm your pet.
This problem is easily solvable for a responsible pet owner: Monitor your pet outside. Period. End of story. Letting an inside dog outside to do its business may seem harmless enough, and something that they don’t need help with. They don’t, but wildlife does. It only takes a sudden movement of a rabbit, squirrel, or snake to get your dog off and running.
Dog training becomes invaluable during dog-wildlife interactions. An untrained dog could run out into the middle of the road chasing a rabbit, or chomp on a toxic toad that ends up killing it. It looks cute watching your Labrador prance after the deer in the yard, unless that mother has a fawn nearby that she defends with her life. We laugh at our dog chasing after the squirrel that “she’ll never catch”. Until she does catch it, and then that squirrel can’t feed her babies hidden in a nest near the top. The simple “come” or “leave it” commands come in SO handy for those exact situations. If you don’t know how to properly train your dog, agencies like The Upbeat K9 – Naples can show you how to control your dog’s instinct to chase or mess with animals in the yard. A well-trained dog is safer in the long run, and is a better community member, for people and wildlife alike.
Feral cats are responsible for the extinction of over 30 species globally. In the US alone, they kill around three billion birds and more than seven billion mammals. They are master killers that will instinctively take advantage of any opportunity presented to them. Believe it or not, those fluffy kitties that you leave food out for are killing, hungry or otherwise. Keeping a cat cooped up indoors is not the best option either. For an enriched life beyond the windows and doors, cats need some time outside. The solution? Go on walks with your cat. It may sound silly, but they need the exercise as much as a dog does (and as much as we do honestly…). You can try a harness and leash, though some will walk with you without one. Even if you simply monitor them as they explore outside, that is a better option than leaving it alone.
In a hustle and bustle world where patience is in short supply, just remember that taking a couple of minutes of time to monitor your pet is a life-saving practice. It also isn’t a bad idea to get outside and observe the nature of your neighborhood, just as your family pet is doing. We need the enrichment as badly as they do, we just like to think that we don’t.
If you see an animal in distress or acting strangely while walking the dog (or cat), please be sure to take a picture and contact your local wildlife hospital. In Naples, the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida aids over 3500 patients of all species every year. To contact them, call (239) 262 – 2273.