SPARKS — What happens when the dogs are done with dinner and the porch light is turned off? Creatures big and small just might come out from the shadows to snack on the leftovers, bringing with them all kinds of disease and danger, local wildlife experts warn.
With urban sprawl butting up against the wildlife habitat in northern Nevada, many pet owners are being visited by coyotes, raccoons, skunks, deer, bears and other wildlife, said Heather Lackey, owner of Carson Creature Catchers. Often without thinking about it, homeowners leave pet food or garbage outside and unwittingly invite wildlife onto their properties.
“They don’t consider what will happen when they turn out the porch light,” Lackey said. “Don’t leave cat and dog food in the backyard. You are looking for a problem.”
Bird feed and water left out for small wildlife also can attract unwanted attention, Lackey said.
The bird feed can attract squirrels, which can act as a beacon for larger animals that eat them, and so on. Homeowners can soon find small creatures living in their walls.
“We recommend not to feed the wildlife,” Lackey said. “There is a reason behind that.”
Lackey, who travels from Gardnerville to Reno and Sparks answering calls about raccoons, skunks, coyotes, bats and other wildlife issues, said owners should be aware that wildlife can carry diseases that can be passed to house pets. For instance, a raccoon can leave behind disease-causing germs when they eat cat food that can be passed to the felines. Often, cat owners don’t vaccinate their pets, Lackey said. These germs can then be passed along to humans.
As for cats and bats, if you see your favorite feline playing with what looks like a bird in the backyard, don’t be surprised if you find that it is a bat. Bats are common in this area, Lackey said.
If a dog or cat and their food are left out by an owner at night, the wildlife can come looking for a snack and attack pets when their owners aren’t looking.
“Keep animals safe from wildlife,” Lackey said. “Don’t let them go out in the middle of the night where bobcats can hurt them.”
About three years ago, Lackey recalled, a golden retriever was drowned by three raccoons in a pond in the Sparks area. In a recent case, a shih tzu was stolen by a coyote from the front yard of a house in Carson City, she said.
Another reason to keep yards clear from food, water and other wildlife attractants is to ensure that wildlife does not leave behind feces.
“A lot of them have mites, bugs, ectoparasites, mange and ringworm,” Lackey said. “Really, the best thing to do is to appreciate wildlife from a distance.”
One of the most majestic scenes this time of year in historic downtown Carson City occurs when the mule deer creep down from the mountain and walk quietly through the streets at night looking for a meal. However, it is best to keep a distance and not try to feed these creatures, experts say.
“The problem with deer is that people think it’s really cute to get close, but the deer’s instinct is to kick with its front legs,” Lackey said. “A lot of people don’t know that it’s disastrous to get close to wildlife.”
Children, adults and pets alike can get sick from scratches, bites and wounds from wildlife.
Lackey’s husband, Carl, is a biologist and bear expert with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. He deals with the bigger variety of wildlife. What has Carl Lackey talking this year is the weather and how it will affect bears and homeowners this fall.
If the Reno-Sparks area doesn’t see a significant amount of moisture in the next few months, bears might head down the mountain in larger numbers in search of berries, water and food where they could “interface” with with humans, Carl Lackey said.
“Everybody at the interface will usually have fruit trees and all kinds of different types of berries, especially around the rivers and the ditches associated with the interface,” Carl Lackey said.
If homeowners insist on feeding birds, Carl Lackey suggests throwing bird seed on the ground. As for dogs, he suggests keeping them under control in the event the area sees as many encounters as it did in 2007, when bears were spotted in several neighborhood.
“If this weather continues, we could have several hundred complaints this year, but you never know,” Carl Lackey said.
If you have a problem with wildlife on your property or have a question, call Carson Creature Catchers at 315-7124.
To get up close and personal with local wildlife, Animal Ark in Reno opens this weekend from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 970-3111 or visit www.animalark.org.