Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the news services carried a series of cougar versus domestic dog attacks in Idaho’s Wood River Valley.
The stories likely will spread through media pages and screens across the land for the rest of this holiday period. As it was over a century and a half ago, it is still saleable to portray Idaho as a vast wilderness filled with animals just waiting to devour hapless people and pets.
The idea conjured is there are lions out there. Real lions.
The Wood River Valley’s majestic estates and occupants are to prey and predators as an open wound is for infectious bacteria. Add in pets and it’s like … well, picking up a handful of dirt and throwing it into said wound.
For people who want to live in a municipal park-like setting on the edge of wildlands, the expectation that the only wildlife you might enjoy will be gentle, brown-eyed ungulates that are obligate vegetarians, is beyond unreasonable. As your beloved deer and elk dine on your lawns and decorative landscaping (some of which is non-native and highly toxic) others will work to dine on the deer and elk.
Throw in a little white yapper or a free-ranging orange tabby, and predators will key in for dessert accordingly. Winter is hard and predators seek to expend the least amount of energy to get the most calories.
Nature shares a bit of blame here, too. As participation in consumptive outdoor recreation, especially that after predators, has and continues to plummet, there continues to be more predators and more prey-based animals in some areas.
For the prey, throw in some fine dining on green lawns in the dead of winter, and the occasional neighbor who orders in organic dried corn to feed on the patio, and living is good. Top that off with a few mild winters and even more prey and predators survive.
When a reasonable winter does come along and the abundance of snow at higher elevations attracts more snow machines, greener valleys look even better. When food animals move, so do those animals that make them food.
There are some common sense things to bear in mind here. Cats and dogs that roam freely are at risk of being killed by any number of things in all locations, not just scary lions in and around Sun Valley. Roaming freely can also mean a backyard fenced with 4-feet of chain link. The only thing the fence does is keep your pet confined like the food at a buffet table.
Aerial predators such as ubiquitous great-horned owls get a pass because most times people don’t see them. They silently snatch up our kitties at night.
Coyotes routinely patrol our urban areas. Just ask any cop who has worked graveyard shifts. In the wee hours, I have witnessed coyotes (plural) chasing deer (plural) at the corner of Main Street and Grand Avenue in Pullman. Coyotes love to work dumpsters, too.
So a few young-of-the-year or teenage cats descend into the Wood River Valley for a winter meal and encounter low-hanging dessert? Not at all unexpected, nor is the out-of-state outrage.
Sadly, some young predators will become acclimated to decks and woodsheds, only to be euthanized.
Unaccompanied pets can be what nature calls “food,” at all times of the year. Pets romping off-leash in undeveloped areas can be like fishing with live bait at a hatchery — for sharks.The best advice remains, owners beware and be responsible.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email email@example.com.