Pets and Wildlife

Listed below are some tips pet owners can take to proactively ensure pets and wildlife peacefully share the great outdoors. Leaving pets roam can have a detrimental effect on wildlife as well on your pet. 

In general, wildlife will shy away from people and pets.  However, it is always a good idea to keep pets – and pet food – at a safe distance from wildlife, to prevent conflicts. It is important to keep in mind that wild animals are looking to survive, and conflicts with pets are often a result of wildlife simply trying to defend themselves, their young, their food, or their territory.

Cats and Wildlife
Cats are very efficient predators and if left outdoors can have a significant impact on local mammals and birds, even butterflies can be taken by cats.

Remember that cats dumped into the wild can kill up to 600 birds a year and over a thousand small mammals. A pet cat allowed to roam outside will kill many small mammals and birds. A well-fed cat will kill fewer birds and mammals but, even if well-fed, will try to kill as many birds and mammals as they can. However, if not hungry it may play with the small mammal or bird for some time before killing it. Well-fed cats kill fewer birds and mammals, but it still can be hundreds a year if they have free access to outside.

If cats are kept inside part of the day and at night the number of birds and mammals killed is greatly reduced. Cats can be trained or conditioned not to kill birds, but even if well-trained or conditioned, they may still kill animals.

There are other advantages to keeping cats inside.

  • They cannot kill wildlife.
  • They are much less likely to get ticks and fleas and bring them to the owner.
  • They will not be killed by cars, coyotes, mountain lions, owls, eagles, hawks, or other predators.
  • They are far less likely to get a number of diseases which they might contract outdoors.
  • They are likely to live much longer if well cared for.

Be careful in locating bird feeders. Place feeders in areas where the ground is open so cats do not have cover to stalk birds easily.

American Bird Conservancy
CatKillsBird_0_0Scientists estimate that free-roaming cats (owned, stray, and feral)kill hundreds of millions of birds and possibly more than a billion small mammals in the U.S. each year. Cats kill not only birds that frequent our backyards, such as the Eastern Towhee, American Goldfinch, and Song Sparrow, but also Watch List species such as the Snowy Plover, Wood Thrush, and Black-throated Blue Warbler, and endangered species such as the Least Tern and Piping Plover. Scientists now list invasive species, including cats, as the second most serious threat to bird populations worldwide.

Not only are birds and other wildlife at risk, but cats who roam free often lead short and painful lives, living on average less than 5 years, whereas indoor cats often live to 17 or more years of age. Cats become part of the food chain when allowed to roam. They are easy prey for mountain lions, coyotes, and foxes.

Keep cats under control, especially during the spring bird-nesting season. The American Bird Conservancy has prepared informative educational materials (Domestic Cat Predation on Birds and Other Wildlife and The Great Outdoors Is No Place for Cats)on the impact of cats on birds, including documentation on cat predation, health hazards, and other dangers associated with free-roaming cats, legislative solutions, and practical advice on how to convert an outdoor cat into a contented indoor pet. These materials, prepared with the assistance of a technical advisory committee with representatives from animal welfare, conservation (including the National Audubon Society), veterinary, and scientific communities, will be a valuable asset to Audubon chapters, bird clubs, schools, and the general public.

Dogs at Large
DogChasing_ElkDogs running at large have been known to cause problems in La Plata County by harassing wildlife and domestic livestock. When left to roam, they may form packs and harass or kill wildlife. This is especially true in mountain and foothill subdivisions. During the winter months, harassment by dogs results in excessive energy expenditures by wildlife which can significantly reduce their ability to survive. During spring and summer, pregnant wildlife and newborns can be particularly vulnerable to harassment or attacks by domestic dogs. Respect other people's space and keep dogs under control.

A pack of dogs—well-fed or not—often kill or mutilate deer, elk, and domestic livestock. In Colorado, law enforcement officers are authorized to destroy dogs seen chasing wildlife and fine the pet owners. Under certain circumstances, individuals are allowed to destroy dogs harassing humans, livestock, or wildlife. It is unfortunate when authorities or ranchers are faced with having to destroy someone’s pet because it has been allowed to run at large and threatens wildlife or livestock.
Also, owners should be aware that dogs left unattended, even in a fenced yard, are potential prey for coyotes and mountain lions.
Dogs are regulated under the La Plata County Code. Details can be found in the County Code at:
La Plata County, Code of Ordinances, Chapter 10, Animals
Generally speaking, it is unlawful for the owner of a dog to permit it to run at-large. At-Large has the following meanings in the code:

  • Within an enclave or on the Animas River Trail, a dog, including a working dog, shall be deemed at-large unless under direct physical restraint, as defined in these regulations.
  • Outside of the Animas River Trail, an enclave or a dog park, a dog other than a working dog shall be deemed at-large when off the premises of the owner and not under physical restraint or immediate command of the owner.

Control means physically restrained and under direct control. A dog shall be deemed under control only when:

  1. The dog is confined in a building, fence (including an invisible or underground fence), enclosure, motor vehicle, or other structure in such a way that it cannot escape; or
  2. It is under the direct control and restraint of its owner by a leash, cord or chain not more than eight (8) feet long.

The fine schedule under Section 10-30(IV) Animal At-large when bodily injury to any person is not involved is:

  • First Offense$ 40
  • Second Offense$ 80
  • Third or Subsequent $120 plus Court Appearance