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Into the Outdoors: Unwanted Christmas Pets

Last week, I said that we would at an ice fishing horror story involving a couple of friends and me. However, with the warm weather we’ve been having, it just doesn’t seem to fit. As hard as it is to believe, there are actually a couple of dandelions blooming in my yard.

Here is a topic we haven’t looked at in quite awhile. Sadly, animal shelters often have an overload after Christmas, as unwanted gift dogs are taken there. That’s bad enough, but not all dogs wind up there. That is the focus of this week’s column. .I was motivated by a Facebook post I saw recently wherein a guy reported a deer being chased by a feral dog. He went out of his way to point out that it was not a coyote, but rather what might have once been a domestic dog, Some of these dogs are truly feral, having been born and raised in the wild. They can even present a danger to humans.

What are the roots of this problem? In many instances, people who are tired of a dog, and don’t want to destroy it or take it to an animal shelter, will simply “take it for a ride.” That is, they drive the unfortunate animal miles from home and drop it off. It’s a classic case of “out of sight, out of mind.” If the dog is a puppy, it will probably die from lack of food, or fall prey to a variety of predators. An older dog, however, will fall back on the predatory instincts of its ancestors. Few animals are more well equipped for predation as a dog. Their eyesight, hearing and sense of smell are all top notch. When you couple this with their endurance, they become highly efficient predators. When hungry, it’s only natural that they would turn to wildlife to satisfy themselves. The picture only gets worse when you throw in the thrill of the chase. On two occasions, I have witnessed an exhausted deer being chased by dogs. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out the probable outcome of the chases. Whitetail fawns are especially vulnerable.

All of this, of course raises the question of what can be done. Some may think it wise to shoot dogs they see chasing deer. It’s not. The rules governing such action in this state are rather complicated. Further, in the case of domestic dogs, shooting someone’s dog is a very serious thing, and something I would never do. Even the best dog will mess up sometime.

So, then, what can be done? First of all, people should stop dumping unwanted animals along the road. Those doing this should be subjected to genuinely hefty fines, enough to really get and hold their attention. If law enforcement officers catch a licensed, domestic dog chasing deer, the owner should be fined. These measures would, at least, be a good start. As for the feral dogs already out there, reproducing rapidly, the issue is more complicated. Trapping them might be one alternative. That would be a costly proposition, but it needs to be done. Perhaps a temporary, and I mean temporary increase in the hunting license fee, with the money raised specifically earmarked to work on the problem, would be a possible way to go. The main responsibility, though, still rests with individuals.

On another, more pleasant front, January has been a good bird sighting month for me. I spotted a fully mature bald eagle, flying over the East Brady bridge. Of course, the river is open, due to the mild weather we have been having. I’ve seen a pileated woodpecker on a number of occasions at the bird feeder, eating suet. Even in the dead of winter, there is still beauty around us. All you really have to do is get out there and look for it.

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