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Pets on the Prowl

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2003

doves, cardinals, juncos, dickcissels, sparrows, meadowlarks, bobwhites, and ruffed grouse. Hatchlings and fledglings of most species are even more vulnerable to cats than are the adults.

Prey species aren't the only victims here; native predators also suffer when house cats hunt. It's not that cats are necessarily better hunters than coyotes, bobcats or raptors, but they do have distinct advantages over the native competition. First, most cats receive some nourishment from humans. Whether it's generous portions of cat chow or table scraps tossed out for the transient tom, the availability of handouts is a source of supplemental energy that wild predators lack. This not only affords cats greater stamina on the hunt, but it also allows cat populations to endure declines in prey numbers that would starve native predators.

Second, cats are a protected predator. Their owners guard them against disease, competition and from being eaten by other predators.

Cats also have the benefit of being new to the American outdoors--at least in terms of evolution. America's wildlife has evolved specific adaptations that aid in eluding and defending against native predators, but not exotic ones.

Cats are major culprits in killing wildlife, but dogs also cause much damage. Some dog owners want their dogs to roam, but rarely are they aware of the trouble dogs can get into when left to their own devices. While few domestic dogs are as adept at capturing small prey as cats are, they do kill rodents, and they also take a toll on rabbits, moles, squirrels, turtles, waterfowl and even deer. Dogs enjoy tracking scents and pursuing all varieties of prey.

Deer and other wildlife can often escape dogs, but the chase itself endangers them. At any time of the year, deer may be driven into fences and across potentially hazardous roadways by dogs on the run.

During winter, wild animals must conserve their energy to maintain body heat and locate food. As their fat reserves are depleted, they have little energy left for fleeing. The stress of being harassed or attacked by dogs can cause pregnant animals to miscarry and weakened ones to die of exhaustion. Deer fawns lack the coordination and speed of adult deer and are especially easy prey for dogs in spring and early summer.

While there is, to date, no scientific evidence that free-ranging dogs significantly impact Missouri's deer or fur-bearing mammal populations, individual instances of disturbance do occur,

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