Pets and Livestock
Much as many of us love pets, we need to be aware of the problems our pets can cause for nearby wildlife (including fish) and work to prevent them. Pets, especially dogs and cats, can and often do revert to their natural instincts when out of the house – instincts to track, stalk, chase, attack, and kill other species. This is certainly true for pets that are allowed to periodically roam freely in an area (think neighborhood cats) or the feral offspring of pet cats that have been released to the wild. It can also apply in the case of pets that have at least temporarily escaped human control (e.g., a lost dog, or pack of neighborhood dogs).
Stresses on Wildlife
Being flushed from a hiding place or pursued is stressful for wildlife. It is especially dangerous for species with unprotected young nearby. Often the act of a pet harrying wildlife turns ugly, with significant injuries and death of the wild animal – and its eggs or young – being the result. Even animals that may seem insignificant to us, such as the insect-eating shrews a cat delivers to our doorstep, provide important functions in the natural world. At a minimum, they serve as food sources for many of the other wild species we enjoy seeing.
It is critical to keep control of your pet at all times. For dog owners, this means keeping your dog within sight and under voice control. Many communities have leash laws that direct where pets must be restrained with a leash or, conversely, where they can be off their leash; learn and follow the rules your community has established.
For cat owners, it’s a different story: The average number of small animals each cat kills annually has been variously estimated at between a dozen, to as many as 1,000. Multiply this by the number of households and farms with such cats, and you see the magnitude of the concern for wildlife conservation. Sadly, cat bells have been shown to be relatively ineffective at keeping cats from killing birds. The single most effective action a cat owner can take to help protect wildlife is to keep their cat indoors.
Disease & Other Indirect Effects
Domestic pets can also have other, less direct, effects on wildlife. These include introducing diseases and transporting parasites into fish and wildlife habitat.