Sometimes my dog Bowie likes to playfully chase other dogs, our cats and, if I would let him, squirrels and deer. It’s kinda cute because he’s small and when he actually catches up with another animal, like our cats, he doesn’t do anything. But this harmless result is often not the case when dogs hunt wildlife.
A few years ago, a dog owner left her dog in a restricted area of a Point Reyes beach. While it may not seem like a horrific offense, the dog attacked and killed an endangered Guadalupe fur seal pup.
I’ve read posts on Nextdoor from people who have written that they intentionally let their dogs “chase” off deer that are eating their outdoor plants, or commented on how cute it is to let their dogs follow deer and other wildlife on hiking trails.
Not only is it harmful, it is also illegal to let our dogs harass wildlife and penalties can include fines. And for a good reason.
“Each year, WildCare accepts 50 to 100 animals that arrive at our wildlife hospital after being trapped by dogs,” said Alison Hermance, WildCare communications director. “The dog may think he or she is playing, but for the wildlife involved, hunting is deadly serious. Animals caught by dogs often suffer bruises and internal injuries, and many have broken bones and head injuries when shaken or thrown.
“Even if the wild animal escapes the dog, this can have long-term negative consequences for the animal’s health. A condition called muzzle myopathy results in damage to the heart and other internal organs in prey such as deer. For the health of wildlife and our pets, WildCare strongly recommends that all dogs be kept on a leash in wildlife areas.”
It can also be dangerous for our dogs to chase wild animals. They can walk on roads and get hit by cars, sustain injuries and illnesses from wild animals trying to protect themselves or get lost. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone on a hiking trail frantically calling for their dog, who saw a squirrel, rabbit or deer, ran off and got lost.
I appreciate being able to take my dog on hikes and off-leash areas when needed, but it’s important that we recognize the limitations, distractions and temptations of dogs. The prey drive is quite strong in many dogs. After all, they are descended from an apex predator – the wolf. If we can’t consistently recall them, they shouldn’t be taken off the leash.
The dog-loving community of Marin has worked hard over the past few years to keep our area dog-friendly. So keep an eye out for signs and be a responsible guardian by not allowing your dog to harass or harm wildlife. Let’s not lose the wonderful privilege of being able to enjoy the great outdoors with our canine friends.
Lisa Bloch is Director of Marketing and Communications at Marin Humane, contributing Tails of Marin articles and welcoming animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Visit marinhumane.org, email [email protected] or find us on social media at @marinhumane.