DEAR DR. FOX: I don't take my dog to the dog park because you can't count on people to know whether their dog is malicious, and it can get dangerous quickly, as you witnessed.
I board my 10-year-old pug at a cage- and leash-free facility in Fairfax, Virginia, and dogs are all carefully vetted before being allowed admittance. I am very protective of my dog, and all my questions about possible dangers in this environment were addressed in a manner that indicated that the young woman who owns the facility understands dogs. The woman grew up with a mother who bred goldens. I have a dog-walking/pet-sitting business myself, so I know dog behavior and recognize when others do.
The pack thing can work if there is someone around who is vetting the dogs, but there is no vetting in the dog park, and most people who have dogs are clueless; I do not trust them. The best thing to do is go to the dog park during weekday afternoons. It's not crowded then, and Kota will be less likely to encounter a big bully dog. It doesn't surprise me that no one else said anything to the bully owner; look who we have for president. -- M.G., Fairfax, Virginia
DEAR M.G.: Thanks for your words of sound advice from first-hand experience. Just an hour before writing this response to you, my wife and I decided to return to the dog park and see what dogs were there. This time, there were no bullies or rough-playing dogs that like to pretend to kill you -- which many dogs do with great self-control and enjoyment, but which can scare other dogs and may trigger a pack attack in the underdog. Our dog Kota had a good time with these young and gentle dogs.
But then, in came another person with her Kota-sized dog, who immediately engaged in play, chasing a 6-month-old pup and knocking him over repeatedly -- with no intent to harm, just rough play. The young dog was becoming quickly exhausted, and my wife and I were glad we did not have to intervene because the owners of both dogs intervened and stopped the rough play. Rough play of any duration is not for a young dog that could sustain traumatic injury requiring costly orthopedic surgery. When mature dogs are getting too rough and excited, a few minutes of restraint and a time-out is prudent. It is notable that most dogs in a melee will give each other a time-out, but not all dogs learn fair play!
DEAR DR. FOX: Back in 2015, I happened to see your column in a local newspaper. (Fortunately, I saved it, because I have not seen your column again in that paper.) I found out in that column about Project Coyote. I like the organization. I firmly believe that natural predators are crucial in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
As you correctly pointed out, coyotes are shot, trapped, poisoned and killed via other methods. There is an attempt in my hometown of Westport, Connecticut, to allow the trapping of coyotes. This is in a wealthy, politically liberal suburban town, so I was surprised to see that here. There is even a “no deer-hunting” ordinance in effect within the entire town. I am opposed to that ordinance: There is an overpopulation of deer here in Connecticut, especially in Fairfield County, where there are many houses and people.
I am not an animal rights activist. I do not believe natural predators like coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes and wolves should be killed, because we need them desperately to kill and eat rodents and deer. However, I firmly support the hunting of deer because there are too many of them here, resulting in a Lyme disease increase. I won't even walk in the woods anymore out of fear of being bitten by a Lyme disease-ridden tick.
Deer should be killed and their meat consumed, whether by the hunter or the community. I don't believe they should be killed and left to rot.
I just want to let you know that you are an interesting veterinarian with a good website. Please continue to support natural predators. We need more people like you, who are not afraid to speak out. -- M.T., Westport, Connecticut
DEAR M.T.: I am glad that you appreciate what the nonprofit Project Coyote is doing to educate the public about the intrinsic value and ecological and public health benefits of coyotes and other predators, as well as seeking to outlaw such cruel practices as setting dogs on a small coyote in an enclosure to tear her apart. With no financial help from me, but with my spirit and her unique gift as an organizer, my daughter Camilla, of whom I am indeed proud, founded and directs this very active and effective organization.
More people are realizing that the past two centuries of predator extermination by state and federal agents and private land owners -- in part to eliminate competition with hunters for deer and other "game" species that are essentially being farmed -- have resulted in serious population imbalances everywhere. Deer are colonizing suburban areas where hunting is prohibited, and Lyme and other tick-borne diseases infect more and more people -- and their dogs.
Killing coyotes and wolf-coyote hybrids is not the solution in these areas, or elsewhere. The authorities need to embrace sound science and ethics and begin to manage wildlife populations, species and biodiversity from an ecological perspective. This is for the good of the indigenous plant and animal species and their communities, not simply putting human interests first.
You and other interested parties should contact Project Coyote and explore bringing its program to your community to enlighten those who are seeking to "control" the coyotes by trapping them -- an activity which is likely to actually increase coyote numbers!
I regret that my column is not in your local newspaper; however, past columns over several years are archived by The Washington Post at washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/advice/animal-doctor.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)