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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Paul Lindholdt: Protect our pets from wildlife, and vice versa

Paul Lindholdt

Near where I live, coyotes occupy Palisades Park. They yap in joyous packs at night. They trot with impunity up our street. If I come too near a spring den, they bully me with threat displays. A neighbor who works a graveyard shift saw a cat dangling from a coyote’s mouth.

And so, it should come as little surprise that cat carcasses have been found in adjacent Polly Judd Park. Coyotes seize our pampered pets whenever stupidity and chance provide. Coyotes are co-evolving with us, and we’d do well to keep our pets on leashes or indoors.

The noise of one ambush in our yard will never fade. It was 1:00 a.m. when yipping woke us, two separate coyote voices sounding out. Our undomesticated Maine coon cat had holed up in a shrub. The yips were meant to unnerve him, flush him out, and the evidence says they did.

We lost five cats before we learned the terms of the environment where we live. Now we keep our cats indoors. Some empathic friends complain that’s too sad and cruel. Why constrain our companion pets that way? If it’s not coyotes taking our cats as prey, it’s great-horned owls.

One cat came in blood-crusted on both sides of the head. Its scrapes and punctures bore the talon-signatures of an owl. The tabby acted skittish ever after that. It cowered when it saw a ceiling fan, ducked when we lifted a broom or switched on an overhead light. A blow must have concussed our tabby cat before the silent five-foot spread of feathers overhead began to thrash.

Even dogs may fall prey to the wildlife we share Spokane County with. Packs have been known to post a single coyote as a decoy in a pasture or a field. When Fido ventures to make a friend or defend his environs, the rest of the pack in hiding surrounds him and takes him down.

Acts of predation have seized upon my imagination. Wasps stun spiders and lay eggs, magpies rob the nests of other birds, hawks nail starlings in my backyard, our own pets fall prey when we place them in harm’s way. Similar acts of human depredation seethe within our cities.

The thug who picked my pocket on the Paris Metro never injured me, only exploited my inattention, much like the coyotes did that ate our pet. That resident pack from Palisades Park leaves smears of fur on the Indian Canyon Golf Course, fibrous piles of scat on the cart paths.

San Francisco is posting “Coyote Advisory” signs to remind us that coyotes are natural residents of the city and need to have respect. Those signs help people learn to co-exist. Coyotes preceded us as Spokane County residents. We may consider them to be first in time, first in right.

The same is true of wolves. But county commissioners and wildlife agencies seem unduly regulated by ranchers of beef. Wolves are being destroyed to give privately owned cattle a home on the public range. Which species among us is the greater predator remains an open question.

At Rose Hill in Manito Park one day, I saw a young woman get seized. A husky male crept up from behind and threw her over his shoulder caveman-style. The woman’s fear immobilized her, made her incapable of struggling in his clasp or even crying out.

When I shouted and made a run at them, he dropped her. He cast a dark glance back at me and fled. She took some time to find her legs. We did not try to guess the extent of his intentions.

It’s an uncomfortable analogy, to be sure, but people and pets alike are vulnerable to the predators among us. Women might find it easier to take back the night than our felines can.

If the risk of losing beloved pets is not enough to keep them on leashes or indoors, maybe the loss of birdsong is. Rachel Carson fretted about a “silent spring” due to pesticides. Today, Nature magazine names cats “enemy number one” of songbirds and small mammals.

The peer-reviewed 2013 article focuses on U.S. cats. “We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually.” Housecats are “invasives” whose feral mayhem requires us to constrain them.

Let’s keep our precious pets on leashes or indoors. If we do that, we will spare the songbirds and also spare ourselves the loss of love to the predators we share Spokane with.

Paul Lindholdt is a professor of English at Eastern Washington University whose most recent book, “Making Landfall,” comes out in December.

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