When Pets and Wildlife Collide

By Jerry Large
PEOPLE like to draw neat lines.

There’s a line between cities—where humans live, sometimes with their little tame friends—and the outdoors, where wild creatures live. But sometimes other animals have their own ideas about boundaries.

Recently, three species of animals have been quarreling over the little patch of earth my family occupies. There’s a gray cat, a family of Raccoons and some crows.

The cat has another home nearby, but he’s made our house part of his territory, inside and out. The other day, he was lying just outside the front door when we heard a big crash and a howl.

A large Raccoon had displaced the cat, who arched and hissed. A couple of crows were cawing loudly, swooping across our deck like Blue Angels. The cat and Raccoon vanished in the seconds it took us to get out the door. We’ve been worrying that the Raccoon might kill the cat. She didn’t, but this was not their first run-in.

We’ve been seeing a lot of the big Raccoon lately. She moved into our neighbor’s rockery under some bushes next to our deck, and one of the neighbors said he saw her with babies. He also said he saw a coyote running down the street early one morning.

We live near Seward Park, so I asked Annie Morton, education director at the Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center, about the Coyote sighting in the area.

“They are part of the natural ecosystem,” she said. “If we want to have balanced, healthy ecosystems, we have to have predators.”

One of the reasons Coyotes have been successful here is the absence of Cougars and wolves. They would keep the Coyote population down.

“They’re part of the urban habitat just like people are,” Russell Link told me. He is a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Since we’re going to be living together, he said, we need to make it work.

He and Morton blame people for many of the problems between animals and people. They say we should keep our cats indoors, walk our dogs on leashes and quit putting pet food outdoors.

Pets act like animals too. Dogs sometimes bite. Cats kill rats and birds. But we worry more about wild animals, especially this time of year when we’re out more, and so are lots of other animals.

About the Raccoons, Morton said, “They’re overworked parents, which is why you are seeing them. They’re out trying to feed the family.”

Washington Fish and Wildlife has a web site full of information about urban wildlife and tips for managing our relationships: wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/index.htm.

I learned that Raccoons like to change dens often. So once those babies are a little older, our masked neighbor will be moving on. Maybe to your yard!–Seattle Times