In her latest column, North Bend resident, Bellevue transplant and pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy, Melissa Grant, offers some advice to manage life in the Valley with pets and our local wildlife, with a little bit of help of her own personal experiences over the past decade.
I was not born and raised out here in the Valley. I spent my entire childhood and most of my adult life in Bellevue. Growing up, the sight of any wildlife was an event. We didn’t have to worry about the safety of our pets, the security of our garbage or the protection of the wildlife around us…there simply wasn’t much to protect.
When I moved to the Valley in 2006, it was almost like moving to another planet. A planet full of creatures that, at first, I found to be a little scary. I feared for myself and for my little urban dog. However, very quickly I learned that the danger to me was very minimal; that, in fact the reverse is more the case. Humans and domesticated pets, especially cats, have a tremendous impact on wildlife populations.
Within a year of moving out here I was lucky enough to see bears, coyotes, raccoons, deer, elk, bobcats, eagles, turkey vultures, hawks, beavers, mice, rats and more bunnies than I thought possible. In the spring, I hung a Fuchsia and was instantly treated to a nest of baby Robins right outside my front door. As an animal lover, it was such a privilege to see these things, but I also quickly learned things that were easy in a more urban setting had to change out here in the Valley.
The bears gave me my first wake up call. I was sitting in my TV room early one morning and looked up to see that a dog had knocked over my garbage can and was busily going through my trash in the middle of the road. I got up, ran outside yelling and shooed the dog away. A few minutes later I looked up again and saw another black furry creature in my trash. Again I ran outside yelling – only to quickly realize I was yelling at a bear.
Our homes are in a rural area in very close proximity to woods, and the bears are close. As the saying goes “A fed bear is a dead bear” and it’s true. When bears are fed, they quickly learn un–bearlike behaviors. Sadly, this often leads to the death of the bear. Once a bear comes into contact with human foods or garbage, they return again and again.
It is our responsibility to make sure nothing that resembles food is around our homes: no garbage, no bird or chicken feed, no pet food or dirty grills. Clean up around fruit trees and make sure no rotting fruit is on the ground and secure compost piles.
The Snoqualmie Ridge community has rules in their HOA disallowing livestock in backyards and enacted new laws recently making it a “civil infraction to negligently feed wildlife by allowing wildlife access to garbage containers and a misdemeanor to intentionally feed wildlife by allowing them access to garbage containers,”- Living Snoqualmie February 13, 2015.
These rules are in place to keep your pets safe AND the wildlife safe. I now wait until I hear the garbage trucks to put out my trash. Inconvenient for sure, but necessary to protect the bears from me, and from developing habits that will inevitably not end well for them.
In addition to what I do to protect the bears, I have also changed the way my domesticated pets interact with wildlife. I no longer have an outdoor cat. At first I kept my cat indoors to keep it safe from all the new critters out here in the wilds of North Bend, but now it is to keep the critters safe from my cat.
It is estimated that over one billion songbirds, plus countless small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles are killed annually nationwide by cats alone. I realized I needed to be responsible and take appropriate actions to ensure that my pet does not contribute to the decline of wildlife species.
Some will argue that you cannot adequately enrich a cat’s life while keeping it inside, but I believe you can. Cats, no matter how well fed, will hunt small, wild animals. Collar bells on cats don’t work because birds and other wildlife do not associate bells with being stalked. If you have bird feeders, birds become easy prey. Leash train your cats or provide a screened “Cat’io” for your cats enjoyment and enrichment.
Dogs should always be leashed and/or under control when out and about. While it is rare for a dog to actually catch the wildlife, he or she chases it does cause that wild animal stress. That animal may be barely surviving and have to expend tremendous amounts or energy just getting away from your dog. This can allow other predators to catch and kill them.
Think of how many dogs climb just Mt. Si with their owners every year. If each one of those dogs indirectly allows an animal to be killed, the loss would be substantial. Be sure to pick up your pooches feces to limit the exposure to pathogens found in poop. Parvovirus, for instance, effects other canines and is thought to be the major cause of wolf pup mortality in Glacier National Park in the 90’s.
Remember, to change the behavior of wild animals, we must first change our own. Don’t wait until you have a problem to do something about it. It is our responsibility if we choose to live in this beautiful wild place to learn how to live with our wild neighbors.
Here’s some photos of local wildlife Melissa captured in her backyard, including a bear on the front porch one time.