Columbia resident Pegi Phillips-Sapp is sharing stories about her backyard wildlife when she is suddenly interrupted by a set of paws on her chest. Ellie-May, her miniature long-haired dachshund, is giving her “the look.”
“Oh yes, 9:00 [p.m.], it’s time to eat, isn’t it?” Phillips-Sapp says.
Columbia residents show plenty of love toward their animal companions, so pet owners are understandably fearful of wild animals attacking their pets. However, a coyote or fox wandering outdoors is not always something to fear. In her years living in Columbia with over 10 dogs, Phillips-Sapp hasn’t had any frightening encounters with wild predators that she can recall.
Although it may be tempting to call animal control the moment a predator is spotted, it is highly unlikely to ensure pet safety because it will not eliminate all the wildlife in the area.
“Most of the time, killing [an animal] is just a short-term fix, it’s a Band-Aid on the problem,” Daryl Damron, wildlife damage biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, says.
Wildlife will always be around, so it’s up to pet owners to take precautions for their pets’ safety. Damron suggests dog owners keep close eyes on their pets and stay in well-lit areas. Even better, keep dogs on a leash when outdoors and stay within arm’s reach of smaller breeds so they can be easily picked up if approached by a predator.
Although household cats love roaming the outdoors, keeping cats indoors is the only way to ensure their safety from wildlife. For chickens, investing in high-quality fencing is essential. A sturdy coop should have no gaps, be tight to the ground and include a top or roof.
Avoid feeding pets outside because open food attracts wildlife. Similarly, keep trash can lids closed and try not to have them outside for an extended period of time.
Here are some of the common creatures Columbia residents might encounter and tips on how to handle them.
Coyotes are the most prominent threat to pets in Columbia, although these attacks are not too common. In the warmer months, the reasons for coyote attacks are almost exclusively territorial, not for food.
“If they’ve established a home range, and they see a dog within that, they just look at that dog as another canine that is competing with them for food and may kill their young if they get an opportunity,” Damron says. “A lot of times, the dog will take the fight to the coyote, and the coyote runs the dog down and attacks him.”
Rabbits and mice make up two-thirds of coyotes’ diet, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, and they would very rarely pursue pets as a source of food. If they do, it’s more likely to be in the winter months when food is scarce.
If a coyote approaches, put pressure on it to scare it off; making loud noises, banging pots and pans and chasing after them are all effective strategies to deter the shy animal.
“The one thing coyotes respect is territory,” Damron says. “They understand the dangers that humans are.”
Coyotes have the ability to jump a six-foot fence but are less likely to jump when they don’t know what’s on the other side. Wooden fences, rather than see-through chain-link fences, are more beneficial.
Foxes are fairly harmless, and while red foxes could kill outdoor cats, it’s not common, according to Damron. However, they may become a nuisance when raising their young under porches and houses. The solution to “getting rid” of these foxes is simply to wait. After the pups grow up in three to four weeks, the foxes will leave the den and not return—granted that nearby humans haven’t been feeding them.
Birds of prey
The diet for local birds of prey, such as red-tailed hawks, includes small rodents, which could pose a threat to pet owners with squirrel-sized dogs. But even catching a squirrel is quite a feat for a bird of prey, so it’s not too likely.
Bird feeders pose an extra danger—since they cause smaller birds and squirrels to congregate in one place—providing the perfect feeding ground for a bird of prey. Taking down feeders will reduce the likelihood of encounters with flying predators.
Raccoons are quite mischievous animals, and “when they want something, they’ll get it,” Damron says.
Unfortunately, that something can include chickens, so a sturdy coop is the best protection. For dogs and cats, raccoons don’t pose a threat.
When in doubt, for any wild animal, Damron has one simple piece of advice: “Let wildlife be wildlife."