Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

The following article was originally printed in "Shared Space", the newsletter of the PAWS Habitat Conservation Program. "Shared Space" is distributed to the more than 180 landowners participating in the Release Site Program component of the Habitat Conservation Program. For more information about the PAWS Release Site Program, visit:

Kevin Mack
Keeping Both Wildlife and Pets Safe
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

You often see feature stories on the television news or in newspapers that talk about oil spills, development, and other forms of large scale habitat destruction and degradation. Events such as these are highly visible, and they have an immediate impact on a wide variety of wildlife species. There are other dangers to wildlife, however, that are just as prevalent but more diffuse. Since these factors act over a wider area, their cumulative impact on wildlife is much harder to monitor and quantify. One such factor is negative interaction between wildlife and the companion animals of humans, especially dogs and cats. Luckily, this is one area where changing our own individual behavior and policies can go a long way towards alleviating the pressure on the wildlife around us.

This Juvenile Black-headed Grosbeak was badly injured when he was attacked by a domestic cat.

Domestic cats are increasingly recognized as a threat to native wildlife populations. Outdoor cats are found nearly everywhere, and the native wildlife is not equipped to cope with this efficient, non-native predator. Organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy state that free-roaming cats kill hundreds of millions of wild birds every year in the U.S., and probably more than a billion small mammals. These numbers are estimates, and they are often disputed, so it is unclear how close to the truth they really are. But one need only look at the intake logs here at the PAWS Wildlife Center to see for themselves that cats are having an impact on wildlife in Washington State. On average, 15% of the animals admitted to the center annually are cat attack victims. PAWS has received more than 83,000 wild animals in the past 22 years. If 15% of these animals were cat attack victims, that means 12,450 wild lives were directly impacted, and in many cases ended by a domestic cat en counter. This number represents only those animals that were attacked by cats, rescued by humans, and transported to PAWS wildlife center. For every animal that made it to PAWS' doorstep, there were likely countless others that were found dead or never found at all. Twelve-thousand seems like a large number, but it is undoubtedly only the tip of a very large iceberg.

Owl in rafters

This black bear cub suffered two broken legs during a dog attack.

A smaller, but still significant proportion of the animals PAWS receives have been injured by domestic dogs. While the majority of the cat attack victims that we see are birds and small mammals, we often see adult squirrels, opossums, deer fawns, and other, larger mammals that have been injured by dogs. In 2001 PAWS even received a young bear cub who had suffered 2 broken legs during a dog encounter. Again, the animals that we receive here at PAWS only give us a glimpse into what is happening on a larger scale. But this glimpse does demonstrate that uncontained and unsupervised companion animals are having an effect on wildlife at least at the individual level, if not on a broader population level.

There is more to this story, however, than direct predation on wildlife by pets. Sometimes it is the pets that become the prey. Larger predatory species such as foxes, coyotes, cougars, and bobcats are fully capable of killing and consuming cats, rabbits, small dogs, and other pets that are allowed to roam free. These wild animals are used to preying on small birds and mammals. It is a necessity for their continued existence to do so. It would be extremely unrealistic to expect them to be able to make a distinction between a human pet and any other small bird or mammal that they come across. Be that as it may, it is emotionally upsetting to lose a companion animal, and wild animals are often vilified as a result of pet predation. This usually leads to removal (in other words, death) for the suspected wild offender. So whichever side of the predator/prey interaction the wild animal is on, it almost always ends up losing in the end.

Raccoon in stream

Wild animals, such as cougars, cannot make a distinction between pets and naturally occurring prey. For the safety of both, it is best to keep pets and wildlife physically separated.

Another threat to wildlife that is directly related to how we maintain our companion animals is the threat of habituation. Wild animals may be drawn into close proximity to humans when they begin to prey on pets, or when they feed on pet food that has been left outside. Any number of problems can arise when wild animals begin to associate humans with easily acquired food. In the case of large predators (cougars, bears), habituation may lead to a human safety issue that will result in the animal being removed or destroyed. In the case of smaller animals, habituation may lead to the animal being considered a nuisance. While one landowner may enjoy seeing a raccoon up close as it eats from the cat's dish on the porch, the neighbors may not be as tolerant of this behavior. Again, the end result will usually be removal of the animal.

The preceding has been only a partial list of the potential negative impacts of free roaming pets on wildlife (and vice versa). For those of you that have properties listed in the PAWS Release Site Database, it is likely very clear why the question "Do you have any free roaming pets?" is on the application. Especially on smaller properties, the presence of outdoor cats, free roaming dogs, rabbits, chickens, and other domestic animals can greatly influence the variety of species for which a given release site is appropriate. Keeping wildlife and pets completely separate is the only way to ensure that no negative interactions will occur between them. It is far easier to manage the movement and behavior of pets than it is to manage the movement and behavior of wildlife. For that reason, closely supervising and restricting the movements of outdoor pets is the most effective way to ensure that conflicts do not arise.

How You Can Help

The following list of tips will help to keep both wildlife and pets safe on your property:

  • Turn your outdoor cat into an indoor cat, or build an enclosed run for your outdoor cat. Tips for keeping your cat healthy and happy at home can be found on the PAWS website at:
  • Do not place bird feeders in your yard if you have free roaming cats on your property.
  • When outside of a fenced yard or dog run, keep dogs on leash, or under close supervision.
  • Feed pets inside, or, if feeding outside, remove leftover food as soon as the pet has finished eating.
  • Make sure that all outdoor caging (for animals such as rabbits, chickens, etc.) is secure against predators.
Additional information on avoiding wildlife/pet conflicts can be found on the PAWS Website at in the wildlife and animal fact sheet sections. You may also call the wildlife center at 425-787-2500 ext. 817 for further information.

Wildlife Release tally: September 17th to September 30th, 2003

9 Raccoons
5 Eastern Cottontails
18 Eastern Gray Squirrels
23 Virginia Opossums
2 laucous-winged Gulls
1 Band-tailed Pigeon
5 Douglas Squirrels
1 Common Murre
2 Northern Flickers
1 Mallard
1 Barred Owl
2 Rock Pigeons

Wildlife Release tally: 2003
977 animals

All rights reserved. 2003 Progressive Animal Welfare Society