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    Running Wild | Winter 2011 Out Here Magazine

    Loose dogs and livestock create a dangerous combination

    Bill and Judy Shook, who lost goats and a miniature horse to loose dogs, fear losing more of their animals.
    Out Here

    By David Frey

    Photography by Robert Hendricks

    On a fall day last year, Bill and Judy Shook came home to a nightmare. Two of their miniature goats, more pets than livestock, on their 10-acre property in Fenton, Mich., had been viciously killed by animals but were left uneaten. Their two other goats were hiding in fear.

    The following spring, the nightmare repeated itself. One of their miniature horses was lying dead on the ground.

    The culprits in both cases, animal control officers determined, weren't wolves or coyotes. They were dogs, possibly family dogs from a neighbor, running loose in the countryside.

    "People move out here and they think, 'Wide open spaces. Our dogs can have a lot of fun!' " Judy Shook says. "The dogs probably do have fun, but the neighbors don't."

    It's a growing problem, especially in traditional farm country where newcomers arrive with domestic dogs and let them run free. But it doesn't have to be. Dog owners ought to keep their pets under control, experts say, as much for the dogs' safety as for the neighbors' livestock. And livestock owners can take steps to protect their animals from roaming dogs and other predators.

    "I think sometimes people don't think their dogs will be in conflict with their neighbors' livestock," says Michael Marlow, a resource management specialist with the Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services in Fort Collins, Colo.

    Guard dogs have been known to ward off even grizzlies and mountain lions, Marlow says. Other unexpected guard animals, such as llamas, donkeys, and mules, can also keep roaming dogs at bay.

    "Fencing would obviously be a tool," Marlow says. Some are designed to be predator-proof, high enough to keep dogs and other predators from climbing over them, deep enough underground to keep them from digging beneath them. Loud noises, bright lights and other deterrents can also help.

    But some of the best protection may come from guard animals. Guard dogs have been known to ward off even grizzlies and mountain lions, Marlow says. Other unexpected guard animals, such as llamas, donkeys, and mules, can also keep roaming dogs at bay.

    In the case of feral dogs, once-domesticated dogs that have gone wild, animal control officers may be able to put the animals down. When it comes to family dogs on the loose, he says, livestock owners should contact their neighbors and let them know their dogs are wreaking havoc.

    Depending on local laws, pet owners likely will be liable for any damages their dogs cause, he says, but reining them in is good for the dogs, too. Roaming dogs are at risk not only from other animals, but from getting caught on fences.

    "You as a responsible dog owner should be aware of the potential hazards that can be brought on your own dog, but also the potential for your dog to get into trouble with livestock owners around," Marlow says.

    Even well-behaved dogs at home can change personalities in the wild, taking on a pack mentality as they meet up with other dogs in the area and causing far more damage than they might ever cause on their own.

    "It would be wrong to think if you leave in the morning and your dog is on the porch," Marlow says, "and you come home at 4:30 and your dog is on the porch, he's been on the porch all day."

    David Frey writes in Glenwood Springs, CO.

     

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