Cove Point Loop, Superior Hiking Trail

The Inconvenience of Holding a Leash

Things tend to happen in waves at Wildwoods, which makes sense as we are working with nature. There are seasons. First squirrel and bunny babies, then fawns and fledglings in the spring. As we move into summer and “baby” season comes to a close, we enter injured adult season. Even that has its own sub-seasons. For example, over the last couple weeks we’ve gotten in at least five or six painted turtles that have been hit by cars as they try to cross the road. But there is another wave of injuries happening that is completely preventable, though not many people around here seem to think the inconvenience is worth it. Every time we talk about it people get upset, some even get very irrational and seem to believe that the responsibility of keeping wildlife safe from this particular threat is Wildwoods’ alone, and not that of the caller.

I am talking now about pets. Last night we got a call from a woman whose dog attacked a fox kit and injured it. So badly, in fact, that she was able to catch the fox and hold it on her lap. She was in Grand Marais, two hours north of us, and when we asked her to bring it in she gave us attitude. She had cleared her concience by merely talking to us but was unwilling to take responsibility for the actions of her pet, who had attacked the fox because he was off-leash and was allowed to wander. She finally agreed to bring it, but instead called back half an hour later saying she had found a DNR officer who had looked at the injury, said it wasn’t bad, and they went back and found the fox den and reunited baby with mother. When asked which officer it was, she said she didn’t know and that she had gone to the DNR office and one of the people there helped her. We explained that this is not possible because the DNR office is closed on Sundays. Then she told us that she had not talked to a DNR officer, but a police officer, who told her they couldn’t help her so she took the fox back herself and swears she saw it with its mother. Is this the truth? Who knows. We can’t verify it but what we do know is there is an injured baby fox who likely has an infected wound that could have been properly treated had the woman been honest from the beginning. Or, much preferably, there could be a fox kit with no injury at all, living happily and pain-free had she simply kept her dog leashed.

And I think you may remember me sharing a story of a fawn that had been kidnapped and sent to us under false pretenses that it had been abandoned, but upon further questioning we found out the woman was really wanting us to remove the animal from her property so her dogs wouldn’t kill it. She was unwilling to be responsible for her pets and to keep them under control for just a few weeks until the deer family moved from the area and the fawns were old enough to run from danger.

Right now we have several cat-caught and dog-caught animals in our care and it’s unlikely they will survive. In particular the cat-caught ones because of how infectious their saliva is and the nature of the wounds they inflict. When we suggest that people keep their cats indoors and their dogs on leashes you would not believe how angry and indignant they get. It’s as if we’ve just told them to kill their pets. And it amazes me when people want us to remove animals from their yard so their dog or cat won’t kill them. First of all, it’s illegal to hold healthy wild animals for any reason and we could lose our license. Secondly, moving babies away from the mother will have a serious negative impact on their development. We do our best, but humans are no substitute for an animal’s actual mother. Thirdly, we cannot possibly lock up all the animals out there that could be harmed by everyone’s pets.

“But my [dog or cat] is so much happier when allowed to roam freely outside.” That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard. People who say that are simply too lazy to leash train their dogs or to provide proper physical and mental stimulation indoors for their cats. It’s just an excuse meant to distract from the real reason: people don’t want the inconvenience of holding a leash.

Keep your dog on a leash and cats indoors or on harnesses
Look at my leashed AND happy dog!

Plus, keeping cats indoors or letting them out on leashes/harnesses instead of being allowed to roam freely will prevent them from contracting some very nasty diseases and parasites, getting injured in fights with other cats and animals, or being hit by cars. They will live longer and be perfectly happy, provided you are doing what you promised to do when you adopted them and actively meet their needs. Your dog will be just fine staying on a leash with you and will (especially in this area) be less likely to fall prey to wolves or, again, to be hit by cars or contract diseases and parasites.

Keeping pets leashed/indoors is a win-win for all the animals. The only thing that isn’t happy: the pet owner. It’s inconvenient to train a dog to walk on a leash. It’s inconvenient to put your cat in a harness (and yes, I admit, it looks silly) or to provide it with enough mental and physical stimulation indoors so it doesn’t care about going outside. You know what’s also inconvenient? Driving 2 hours to try to undo the damage your pet has inflicted on a wild animal.

Your Fluffykins may be the sweetest animal that ever there was, but cats and dogs are still predators. No matter how well trained or how sweet a disposition, one day Muffincakes will see or smell something that is too irresistible and will run after it, despite your calls and commands.

Quite frankly, if you’re not going to be responsible for your pet and will be unwilling to do the right thing and bring its victims to us or another wildlife rehab place, even if it’s hours and hours away, accept the fact that your pet is a predator following its instincts and let it finish the job, eat his fill, and deal with the consequences not only to his health but also to your conscience. It’s cruel to call off the attack only to leave the animal to suffer and die a long, painful death.

This woman whose dog attacked the fox wanted us to clean up her mess and she is not unique. I get it, driving two hours one way is a long drive, but ultimately it was her pet and her responsibility. And the kicker of it is if she had simply refused, instead of lying and saying she would bring it, we would have arranged transportation. It would have taken an extra 4 hours if everything went smoothly, which is why we asked her to do it herself, but we would have done it. Instead she lied so she wouldn’t have to do an inconvenient thing.

Allowing pets to wander freely is not in their best interests, or nature’s. It is simply more convenient for pet owners. Own up.

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