One of the most disheartening aspects of wildlife rehabilitation is answering a call from a pet owner who admits their dog wounded or mauled a small mammal, or someone whose cat nabbed a bird and injured it. I do not have the skills nor tools to treat wildlife wounded badly and exposed to possible infection, so I typically refer these folks to Wildcare of Oklahoma. They are a larger facility with staff trained to handle critical and life-threatening situations. But the crux of the matter is that, despite it being in the nature of the dog or cat to attack and kill lessor species, my opinion is that it is also the responsibility of the pet owner to assure they do their best to help avoid these incidences in the first place.
I have written before about my neighbor to the north who, over a year ago, took in a female pit-mix breed who had been dumped off in front of his home. Eventually, she gave birth to eight pups. Having good intentions, my neighbor hoped to keep the mother and one or two of the pups since he had recently lost his two older dogs. His plan for the rest of the pups was to find them homes when they got a little older. Several months later, he told me two of the puppies had died of distemper, and that he planned to get all of the rest vaccinated and eventually spayed and neutered. For now, he had separated the females from the males. He also admitted he had fallen in love with the whole lot of them, and wanted to keep all of the pups which, by then, had grown to be larger in size than their mother. He also explained he would build fencing to keep them from escaping or seeing and bothering Daisy when she came up in our yard. But as the months passed and spring arrived this year, nothing had been done in this regard. And, despite neighborhood people advising him it was against city code to have more than three dogs and many of them reporting it to the police after the dogs had escaped to run the neighborhood many times, still little was done to contain the dogs. Soon, folks in the immediate neighborhood grew weary of the large marauding dogs frequently escaping during all hours of the day and night. FD and I were also sick of their daily visits to our place.
The routine for the escapees, was to come up to our property from the woodland bottom, then out of the front gate and into the neighborhood. As they passed through, they urinated on my herbs and shrubs and tromped through my lettuce and tender vegetable plants, smashing flowers along the way. They left huge piles of crap wherever they pleased. They terrorized our chickens during the daylight, and tried to dig under the chicken fencing and driveway gate at night. A couple of times when I had my three little dogs out for bathroom duty, I had to quickly scurry them back in the house to avoid confrontation with the large mutts. Then, while walking the woodlands one morning, I found a dead mama raccoon along with her dead baby, and another morning a dead fox kit lay on our slope behind the house. I suspected the dogs had killed the coons and fox kit, since they were not eaten as a wild predator would have done. Instead, they were simply torn up at the throat and discarded. Other mammals, like a mama opossum and her little ones who had been regular visitors to the water tub, also vanished suddenly, leading me to presume they had been killed by the escaping dogs as well. Even worse, the owner of the pecan orchard mentioned that an orphaned calf he had pastured with his cattle was also missing. I desperately hoped this pack of dogs had not gone so far as to kill a defenseless calf.
Finally, I approached my neighbor about the problem and he admitted the police had contacted him about complaints from other folks around the neighborhood. He knew the mama dog was the instigator of the escapes and the leader of the killings, and that she often had two or more of her pups with her on her outings. He also confessed knowing for some time that the mother dog was a killer, telling me she had brought home several dead raccoon babies and other victims over the time since he had taken her in. At this point, I informed him that he had to get fences built now, because soon the woodlands would be filled with fawns. Daisy was due to give birth by late May, and three other does in the area would also have fawns in the next month. It would be no challenge for the killer mama dog to nab a helpless fawn in the first two weeks of its life – and I was not about to let that happen. I admit, I had thoughts about killing these dogs. But deep down, I knew I was really not capable of killing anything. And with FD at work whenever I sighted the dogs most days, it seemed that nothing and no one was going to stop them.
In early June, I was almost thankful that I did not see Daisy deer in our area. Recently, she had disappeared to have her babies elsewhere, and had not returned to our property – a place she had reared her little ones each year, for the past four years. I hoped she had found a nice, sheltered backup place to deliver and raise her young, because her old stomping grounds were no longer safe. The neighbor’s dogs were escaping daily, and folks a quarter of a mile west of us had seen the mama dog and some of her pups headed to the river on a daily basis. With this danger to all the deer in the area, I hoped Daisy and her fawns were alright, and I prayed that the other does had managed to find cover as well. While I tried to be compassionate to my neighbor, I was also aggravated and angry that he still had not made any effective effort to build fences or stop the mama dog from escaping. Unfortunately, my only resort was to call him each time I saw the dogs to let him know they were out, or had been out, and hope the continued calls to police from neighbors would eventually prompt some result.
Then, one morning in mid-June, the situation escalated. I spotted two or three dogs at the bottom of the slope near the deer feeder. Anger ran through me once again and, thinking about fawns in the woods now, I was absolutely sick to my stomach as I remembered the death we had already witnessed in our woodlands. For the first time in my life, I went for a gun. I walked down from the back porch and towards the rim of the slope. I was nervous, not even sure I could do this, but I was also as angry as I have ever been. I wanted this daily invasion in my life to be over. But as I approached the rim of the slope, a gray pit bull breed standing just to my right drew my attention. My neighbors dog – the mama dog – was still down below at the feeder along with one of her black pups, but this gray pit bull was not one of my neighbor’s dogs. Under other circumstance, this dog would have been a beautiful specimen – glossy gray coat with a fancy leather collar and a silver chain adorning its neck. I knew it must be someone’s pet that had broken loose, but it did not act like a “pet” at all. Instead, it was threatening, growling, and advancing towards me rapidly. Having no time to even think about trying to remember how to aim and fire my weapon, I backed up to the porch, but became trapped against the railing. Even if I could have climbed up and over the rails to the porch, that dog would have had no trouble sinking its teeth into my legs. Then, just as I knew I’d have no choice but to shoot, the pit bull suddenly ran off to the north, towards my neighbor’s fence. A few of the neighbors pups were barking and jumping in an attempt to clear the fence back into their yard. Fortunately, their activity had distracted the pit bull from his advance on me! At this time, I dashed in the house, and called the police. They arrived quickly, but the pack of dogs were already headed back west to the river by the time the police entered the canyon below our home. Talking with them later, I could tell the police had had their fill of complaints about these dogs. Apparently, just a few days prior, they had tried to contact my neighbor about collecting four of the dogs. Considering this latest event, the police took action the very next morning, as four city police cars and the animal control truck converged at the neighbor’s front yard, ultimately removing four of the dogs. I later learned from the animal control officer that, thankfully, the killer mama dog was one of the dogs taken away.
While the neighbor’s three remaining dogs have not, to my knowledge, escaped since the mama and others were removed, they do bark and growl and lunge at the fence anytime we are in our yard. To try to minimize the possibility of an escape, FD and I put up some spare livestock fence we had on hand to reinforce and add some height to our side of the neighbor’s short, chain-link fencing so the dogs could not leap over as they had been. But despite our efforts, the dogs have still caused a lot of trouble for us while feeding Emma and Ronnie deer. We no more than walk towards the deer pen, or start to feed them, and the dogs begin to growl and bark, and the fawns take cover. It seemed almost impossible to get through a feeding without interference from the dogs. To address this, I called our neighbor and he agreed to keep his dogs inside during the fawn’s feeding times. At first, that worked fairly well. But for two weeks now, the dogs have been out continually, and we are back to dealing with Emma and Ronnie taking flight, crashing into the deer pen fencing and skinning their faces, and constantly running in fear. Finally, we strapped some old tarp to the fence to create a visible barrier so the dogs could not see the activity on our place. That has helped, but still, if the dogs hear us talking, or hear us open the gates to the deer pen, the barking, growling and jumping at the fence begins and the fawns run for cover. So at the end of June, we ordered additional panels of six-foot tall kennel fencing to add an area to the south side of the deer pen that will get us further away from the dogs when we feed Emma and Ronnie. Needless to say, I am incensed that the presence of the neighbors dogs has cost us money to reinforce and create visual barriers on the fencing between us in order to keep his dogs from barking at our every move, and having to add on expensive kennel fencing to provide solitude for feeding the fawns.
Years ago, when we were raising Daisy deer and rehabilitating injured Holly deer, we occasionally had stray dogs get on our place. As soon as they would see Daisy and Holly, they would jump at the fence and the deer would crash into the opposite fencing trying to escape, usually cutting and bruising themselves up terribly. To this, one of my dog-loving friends once said, “Well, the dogs are just doing what dogs do”. Of course, bluntly, she is right, and I understand that it is in a dog’s nature to chase and kill. And it is in a deer’s nature to flee danger and run like the wind. And it is my responsibility to protect the wildlife I care for. Ultimately, I cannot do anything about my neighbor’s lack of responsibility, or his choice of pet. I know FD and I will do what we can to help Emma and Ronnie grow up healthy and make it to their release this winter in prime, physical condition. But I am not sure that, when next year’s fawning season rolls around, it will be wise to continue with rehabilitation of deer, at least until we can afford a different kind of setup and move the entire deer pen. Raising them next to aggressive predators like my neighbor’s dogs is not only unnatural, but it may also set them up for letting their guard down in the wild if they become too accustomed to the dogs presence while growing up in the safety of the deer pen. Hopefully, their flight instinct will serve them well when they finally roam free on the Ten-Acre Ranch and beyond, just as it has served Daisy deer since her release five years ago…
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