Pets and Wildlife

by | Wildlife Fact Sheets |

owl, rescue
Owl settling it to the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

It isn’t hard to notice the variety of wildlife that seems to emerge overnight once the temperature get warmer. Backyard and rural wildlife end their winter hibernation and need to hunt and forage for food to feed themselves and their new offspring. An abundance of baby animals can be seen, including Canadian geese, raccoons, squirrels, birds and other species. It is wonderful to see nature replenish herself, however our pets can often run into these new critters with undesirable results. Many cats and dogs have a natural instinct to hunt specific animals, and it can be unpleasant when you find out your pet has had an altercation with local wildlife.

An excellent example of a pet that enjoys hunting is Jersey, who seems to have a particular affinity for chasing anything that squeaks or moves. She also tries to stalk dogs at the local dog park (she will focus on a particular dog, drop down to her belly in a crouching position, creep forward with her head low to the ground, and when the offending dog gets close enough she leaps into the air and “pounces” on them!), and I have no doubt she is honing her skills for later use.

Last summer, we had let her out into the backyard. Typically, with her long coat, she does not enjoy spending extended periods outside of air conditioning. This particular night, she was unusually quiet outside, without any sort of whining to come inside. I flipped on the lights in the backyard after she did not come when I called, and low and behold she was standing quite proudly (and protectively) over her “kill”, which appeared to be an opossum. I was concerned, because of a variety of reasons. Had she been injured or scratched? Was the animal still alive? Was she exposed to any sort of diseases the opossum may have had?

In my experience, many cats and dogs are determined to “keep” their kills, and will avoid sharing it with you at all costs, including running around with their prize in their mouth or even growl, hiss and snap at you should you successfully get near it. To avoid injuring my pets, myself or the victim (should it still be alive), my last-ditch attempt will be to use water. When I am outside, a garden hose will do, or inside you can use a spray bottle. The spray usually surprises your pet enough that they will drop their victim and dash away to avoid getting wet.

In this particular case, Jersey did indeed drop the opossum once she got sprayed with the hose. I caught her by the collar and made sure she didn’t have scratches or cuts. I was relieved to find she was unharmed. It is especially important to be thorough when your pet has long hair, as injuries can be easily hidden by fur. We called our local humane society, as the animal did not appear to have any mortal injuries and were not sure what to do with it. They advised us to put it out of reach of our pet, and as we were not sure if it was dead, they would come to inspect and and see if they could help. Opossums have a tendency to “play dead” when attacked, and it can be hard for even the hunter to know if their victim is truly dead.

Using a long-handled shovel (being careful not to touch or go near the animal, in case it is still alive), we transferred the opossum to our front yard and turned off the lights. Sure enough, not but 10 minutes later the opossum was gone. Jersey had certainly believed she had killed it, but it was playing dead.

Whenever your pet is in an altercation with backyard critters, it is inadvisable to simply let your pet “have” it’s kill. Many small animals and rodents carry disease, or may have come in contact with toxic substances while rummaging through garbage and garages. Separate them as soon as possible, and if the critter is still alive, you can call your local humane society and they can retrieve the animal in an attempt to save it. You can also call the Ontario SPCA’s Wildlife Centre at (705) 534-4350 for advice. If the animal is deceased, DO NOT try to bury it or simply throw it away. Call your local municipality and they will ensure the carcass is properly disposed of in a sanitary way.

Wildlife should be exactly that; enjoyable to catch a glimpse of but since they are wild animals it is best to keep your and your pets at a distance when possible.