Thursday, September 3, 2009

Animal Control HatCam - "Don't Spray Me Bro"

When I first got the hatcam, I had visions of documenting lots of the really interesting stuff that I do on my job. In the past:

I've had to crawl through doggie doors to get into a house with three aggressive dogs inside guarding the body of a person who had committed suicide. I have captured a bobcat running loose inside a Sam's Club Warehouse store full of customers. I have impounded foxes from trees, a 3 foot long iguana from bushes, and a 4 foot long alligator as it waddled down the middle of a residential street. I've held off three aggressive pit bulls at once by myself, impounded dogs guarding hidden "weed" gardens, and rescued countless injured, sick, and/or abused and abandoned animals. The list could go on and on - and each time one of these events occurred, I thought "Man it would be cool to have this one tape".....

Since I've had the hatcam in my possession, the only semi interesting things that have happened involved saving baby ducks, and snagging raccoons from a dumpster.


So, lacking anything "good", I'll just show you a bit of my daily grind.

One of the functions of my job is helping residents that are having problems with wildlife. Much of the town where I work was undeveloped pasture and farm land just a couple of years ago. Now, where there were cows or wheat fields, there are million dollar homes. A lot of the time, people think there's a wildlife conflict when there isn't. They'll come home from a night on the town and see an opossum on their street and freak out....

"Oh my GOD... Someone needs to DO SOMETHING!!"

In my department, we've made somewhat of a conscious shift away from simply assisting resident's who want to remove whatever wild critter they happened to see this week. By "Conscious Shift", I mean that my partner and I take it upon ourselves to be honest with people - instead of telling them what they want to hear.

Official policy is the tell them we have traps they can borrow, take them a trap, and then go back out when they catch anything and remove it for them - pretty much no questions asked. As with many top-down government decisions, it misses the point of the problem entirely. Instead of just going through the motions of letting them think that the "government" is going to sweep in and solve their problems - which we can't - we slow things down and try to sort things out a bit first.

We provide contact information for a local wildlife group that offers free information and advice to people who are having wildlife problems. We try to determine what the actual problem is. Is the wildlife causing damage? Does it actually pose a physical threat? - Or is the resident just assuming that all raccoons, opossums, and squirrels need to be cleared out of their particular neighborhood? We also explain that, in any environment, the animals are there for a reason. If you remove the animal without dealing with the reason they are there - another member of the wild kingdom will be more than happy to move into the vacant spot you've created.

One of the very first calls I ran as an ACO (in another town) was to remove a 'possum from a live trap of a resident who lived near a creek in the middle of town. I picked up wildlife from this guy's trap at least twice a week for the next 10 YEARS!!!

Obviously, trapping and removing the animals wasn't the best solution to his "problem". As with most wildlife problems, catching and removing the animals is usually a monumental waste of everyone's time.

There are animals, though , that are best removed from the urban/suburban environment when they start venturing near human homes. Skunks would fall into this category. Here in Texas, Skunks are a fairly significant rabies vector - meaning that it's not uncommon for us to find rabies in the Skunk population. In fact, in my years of Animal Control work almost all the positively tested rabid animals have been skunks. When you have skunks in a suburban environment, you run the risk of skunk/domestic pet contact. That's not a good thing at all.

State Law requires that any dog or cat that has contact with a wild animal that is considered "high risk" or rabies transmission, where there is potential for rabies to be transmitted, be quarantined for rabies observation for 45 days - if the dog or cat is currently vaccinated - or 90 days if it is not.

So, if someone puts their dog outside in their yard and it gets in a tussle with a skunk - you're looking at potentially a very long quarantine period.

When residents notice skunk activity and request a live trap, we deliver the trap and show them how to use it. Some residents around here even have their own trap. Once they capture the skunk, they call us and an Officer goes out to deal with the little bugger.

There are those that think its a good idea to relocate skunks that are captured in traps... just take them somewhere away from the home where they were caught and set them free.

Its a really Bad Idea if you do that - and here's why:

1. Animals have territories. Removing an animal from its home and relocating it to a new area will cause it to have to fight, and possibly kill, the current resident of where ever you turned it loose.

2. Wild Animal populations seek their own level. Meaning, that introducing "extra" animals into an area will stress the resources necessary to support those animals. Too many animals mean somebody starves, prey/food sources disappear, and diseases can pass more easily with animals coming in contact with each other more often than "normal".

3. It is illegal to "dump" animals on private property without the owner's permission. I don't know of ANYONE that would be even mildly interested in accepting a never ending stream of skunk refugees onto their property, do you?

4. There is no way for you to tell if a seemingly healthy skunk is actually carrying the rabies virus. They are often only symptomatic during the final days of their life with this fatal disease. Assuming that you picked up a skunk that is carrying the virus, and then turn it loose to "live free" - You've actually just spread the virus much faster and more efficiently than it could have traveled on its own. - Congratulations.

As with many things - what seems like the humane, compasionate, and/or "right" thing to do on the surface, isn't necessarily the best thing to do in actual practice.

You can draw comparative analogies with that statement all day long, these days....

So, it is our policy to humanely Euthanize skunks whenever we find them in traps. It's not fun. I don't enjoy it. It's not popular with a lot of people, but it is the smartest thing that I can do in those situations, so I do it.

The following video will give you some idea of how that goes most of the time. It's not explicit or gory or anything - but if it freaks you out dramatically to see a deceased animal, you probably shouldn't watch it.


The Other Mike S. said...

Interesting as hell.

I don't understand why it didn't hose you when you got close with the sheet. Is that typical?

I expected it to raise its tail and aim towards you when you first showed up.

Paladin said...

Sometimes they spray no matter what you do.. I hate when that happens :)

Most of the time though, if you take your time and don't irritate them you'll be ok.

Bitmap said...

I've used that same approach with a tarp. No spraying for me fortunately. I just open the trap and step back with a shotgun.

Your discussion of suburban people coming into contact with animals reminds me of the movie "Over the Hedge".