Amy Carey (Courtesy Photo)

COMMENTARY: Take action to protect animals: Install good fences and be mindful of pets

Good fences make good neighbors … especially when it comes to protecting pets and living with the wildlife that calls the island home.

Over 30 years ago, Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP) formed with the mission of caring for island pets. While efforts have focused on helping animals in need, life with cougars, coyotes, bears and raccoons has raised community concerns about domestic animal safety. While social media has increased wildlife awareness, it’s important to note these animals have lived on the island — regularly or periodically — for decades, and they will continue to be a part of island life in the future. The good news is that professional wildlife biologists report these wild ones have no specific interest in pets or livestock, and they see no indication of abnormal behavior.

Still, while a coyote’s diet centers on rodents, cats and small dogs may be at risk, as are dogs of any size allowed to run into areas where coyotes reside. Similarly, the cougar is here for deer, but livestock without appropriate fencing is ripe for predation from cougars and coyotes, not to mention roaming dogs. Sadly, a small handful of community members have learned this hard lesson and lost animals. However, in the cases of small dogs lost to coyotes, or the few incidents of larger dogs being injured, each occurred when the dog was off- leash and unattended in unfenced areas — generally at night or early morning — or when a dog ran after a coyote in a wooded area. Our hearts go out to these animal guardians who were not aware of the risks, and it’s our hope we can learn from these events and prevent them from happening again. As a first step, we encourage taking simple actions that form the foundation of protecting pets and livestock in rural areas with wildlife.

To keep animals on your property safe from coyotes and roaming dogs, install a minimum 6-foot high no-climb fence or convert existing fencing to that height, and if possible, bury fencing 1 foot below the surface. Electric hotwire at the top and bottom of the fence, or a rolling bar of pipe at the top between posts — called a coyote roller — prevents wildlife from digging under or climbing over the top, and also keeps your cat or dog in the yard. Motion-triggered lights in your yard and solar-powered strobes or noise deterrents along pasture fencing helps haze wildlife away, and motion-sensor sprinkler heads can keep wildlife — especially raccoons — from yard areas or chicken coops. And livestock owners should create a small pen with extra-high fencing and a shed to close animals in at night.

Although these safety measures have a related cost, most are fairly inexpensive and easy projects. For example, hotwire to the top of existing fencing can cost as little as 10 cents per linear foot and coyote rollers about a $1 per foot. Installing woven wire fencing is an affordable option for yard areas, and livestock owners with acreage that may be facing a higher price tag have options for low-interest USDA farm loans to build fencing and pens.

In addition to physical barriers, there are a range of daily management actions community members can take to keep pets safe.

If you have a cat that goes outside, make sure they have something to climb to escape. In treeless areas, build a cat post — a high pole with a platform on top — to keep the cat safe if chased by a coyote or dog, and make sure they are indoors from dusk until several hours past dawn. If your cat is a howling night owl, a screened-in “catio” can give them safe outdoor access.

When letting dogs out at night, make sure they’re closely attended or leashed, and during daytime hours, don’t leave small to medium-sized dogs unattended or allow dogs of any size to wander. Most importantly, keep dogs on a leash when walking, and never allow them to run into ravines, fields and other known coyote areas.

Studies have found these approaches incredibly effective in protecting animals from predation. On the contrary, a recent study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment found little evidence that killing predators accomplishes the goal of protecting domestic animals, not to mention that lethal measures are often not legal. For example, it’s illegal to kill cougar or bear here absent actual or imminent attack. Similarly, killing coyotes or raccoons as nuisance wildlife is prohibited unless non-lethal measures have been actively pursued, and predation or damage must be actively occurring.

Now, for the best part. You are not on your own here. Not only is VIPP available for consultations about solutions for preventing wildlife and domestic animal interactions, Vashon Ace Hardware has stepped up as a pet protection partner. Currently, all the fencing and supplies outlined here are in stock and consolidated in a “keep-’em-safe” section of the store. They’re also training staff on techniques for pet and livestock protection, so they can be an on-the-ground resource for the community.

Just like food, veterinary care and love, taking steps to keep animals safe on this “where the wild things are” island is the responsibility of every pet and livestock owner. VIPP is ready to take a pet protection pledge to do this. Are you with us?

— Amy Carey is the volunteer co-manager of the VIPP dog program.

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