The United Staates leads the world in urban encounters with wildlife. Which is wonderful- if we consider the global ecosystem.
Here in New Jersey, Raja has foxes, raccoons, possums and even the occasional bear to deal with. Well, he doesn’t really deal with any of them if I can help it. The worst problem is the foxes. They run through his yard, scenting anything they like the looks of and the girl foxes are particularly thorough. Raja finds the fox scent alluring, while I find it completely repellant. Completely. What he doesn’t know is that, although he is only a little smaller than the fox, he is completely docile and gentle and the fox is pure predator. Raja sees the fox as an interesting dog friend. The fox sees him as an enormous, tender snack.
In his California home, Raja has possums, raccoons and coyotes. The coyote scent scares him and terrifies me.
In both locations, unbelievably, neighbors find the wildlife charming… until their cats don’t come home at night, that is. Until they hear about a lost Chihuahua.
How do wild animals survive as suburban and urban sprawl encroach on their territories? Very, very well, it seems. Green belts in Northern and Central New Jersey cover enormous contiguous swaths of land all the way into upstate New York. In California, the isolated hills of the mid state regions lead toward urban/suburban neighborhoods that dead end right at the feet of nature.
And we feed them. A garbage buffet is fairly carelessly set out once a week. Fruit and berry trees, as well as compost, attract small animals that larger animals eat. Even badly cleaned grills lure with the deliciously rancid scent of animal fat. Docile, protected wildlife like deer, wild turkeys and songbirds attract non-docile, but similarly protected, carnivores. Urban golf courses grow tender grass that grows enormous, tasty gophers in spite of the pesticides.
I’m not advocating eradicating wild animals. Except for the smelly foxes and hungry coyotes, I like having wild creatures around. In theory, I even like the foxes. On a good day. But we all have to be sensible, especially as winter makes every wild thing hungrier. And bolder. And more confident to reclaim yards as cooler weather keeps people inside more. (Yes, even in California where some people think 60 degrees is awfully cold.)
In winter, put on your coat and go out with your dog in the yard. If you stand behind a glass door and watch, you cannot beat a fox to the prey. If you chase a coyote down the sidewalk at night, you will run out of steam far before the coyote tires, and he will not drop the Chihuahua to lighten his load. Keep an eye out for movement at the edge of darkness at night and do not allow your dog to wander more than a foot away from you.
Especially in New Jersey and New York where Hurricaine Sandy has uprooted trees and taken down brush, if at all possible, reassert order in wooded property. Chaos and neglect make for new neighbors.
We can all live together if we pet owners are vigilant and protective at the edge of nature.