Joan Merriam: The wild life | TheUnion.com

Joan Merriam: The wild life

Joan Merriam
Columnist

We all know that we live in an incredible part of California: the people, the four-season climate, the majestic Sierra, and the sheer bounty of nature. It's also a wonderful place to live with our dogs, where they can enjoy the great outdoors as much as we do.

However, those incredible outdoors come with problems and dangers for both humans and canines, so let's take a look at some of these wild troublemakers.

Black bears

Your dog may have never encountered a bear — but to my horror, Joey once flushed one out of the bushes on a forest trail, then took off after the creature like a shot. He came back a minute later, unhurt, with a goofy, self-satisfied grin on his face: proof that generally, bears are more afraid of dogs than dogs are of bears.

Keep in mind that black bears generally avoid both dogs and humans, unless surprised or defending its cubs. Nevertheless, exercise caution when you and your dog are out walking in bear country:

Always carry and know how to use bear spray.

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If you happen upon a bear and it sees you, avoid eye contact and slowly back away — DON'T run! If it approaches you, make yourself look bigger by lifting and waving your arms, and yell loudly. Encourage your dog to bark.

If your dog is off-leash, try to prevent him from chasing after the bear by grabbing his collar or even the scruff of his neck; if you're unable to stop him, keep calling until he returns. Obviously, the best way to avoid dog-bear confrontations is to keep your pup on a leash when you're hiking in the forest — but honestly, very few of us do that.

Mountain lions

Any off-leash dog can easily become mountain lion prey, which means not allowing your dog to roam, even on your own property, when lions are most active: at night, dawn and dusk.

While lions usually avoid humans, rare attacks have happened, especially during spring when cubs are present. Keep you and your dog safe by following these tips:

NEVER feed deer at your home. Not only is it illegal to do so in California, deer will attract mountain lions.

Carry bear spray when hiking, as studies show it can be useful in deterring mountain lions.

If you encounter a lion, DO NOT RUN, as running can trigger its chase-and-kill response. As with bears, grab your dog in any way you can to keep her with you.

Don't turn your back, crouch, bend over or squat; make yourself look bigger.

Speak calmly and with lower-pitched tones. Try not to scream (easier said than done).

Coyotes

A lone coyote will generally avoid dogs, but can attack smaller ones — and a pack can be lethal to dogs of any size.

While coyotes are shy by nature and fearful of humans, giving them access to food and garbage can make them more confident and aggressive. Here's how to avoid problem encounters with coyotes:

Bring your dog in at night, and never leave pet food outside.

Keep garbage in tightly closed containers, or in your garage.

If you see a coyote in your yard, yell, throw rocks, or spray the animal with a hose. Make yourself appear larger, and back away slowly; never run or turn your back (sound familiar?).

Skunks

While having your dog "skunked" is nowhere near as deadly as encounters with larger predators, it can be every bit as awful — especially the smell!

The compounds in skunk spray are extremely irritating, and result in symptoms like drooling, vomiting, sneezing and face-rubbing, red or swollen eyes, or even temporary blindness.

Then comes the bath — but not just any bath will do. Instead, mix together a quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, and one or two teaspoons of liquid dish soap.

Lather your dog and wait five minutes, then rinse thoroughly. (You can also try commercial skunk-odor products.)

As with any wildlife, prevention is key. Remove access to garbage and pet food … block areas where skunks might den, like underneath decks and houses … and think about installing motion-activated lights if skunks are a regular problem, as they prefer darkness.

Be aware that skunks can carry rabies. If you suspect your dog has been bitten by one, even if his rabies vaccination is current, contact your veterinarian.

One final thought: game wardens can and will kill nuisance or problem bears, mountain lions or coyotes, so anything that could attract these wild animals is tantamount to their death sentence.

You can reduce the chances of you or your dog having an unhappy or dangerous interaction with wildlife if you make your yard and property unattractive to them.

Keep garbage and human and animal food safe from wildlife … keep your dog inside at night … and when you're out walking or hiking, be wildlife-aware.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you're looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue .