A Wild Connection

What do you know about our local animal control division? The recurring cartoon rendering of a dogcatcher who relishes the capture and demise of animals is all wrong. Because of this misconception, “many people are afraid to call us to help them find a dog or cat,” explains Steven Lerner, the animal control supervisor for Frisco, but nothing could be further from the truth. “All of my staff are huge animal lovers. Our biggest goal is to get the animal home.”

In fact, ask any animal control officer in Frisco, and their deep passion for all animals is unmistakable as they tell story after story of how they have gone to great lengths to protect an animal, as well as educate the public. “I would say more than 60 percent of our calls are wildlife related,” says Sarah King, an animal control officer for Frisco. “We have a lot of people who live in Frisco who may not be from Texas or from the U.S., so they are not familiar with the federal laws that protect our wildlife. So, we do a lot of education.”

The highly-trained, certified and experienced staff of the animal control division, housed within the development services department of Frisco, gets pure joy from making positive connections in the Frisco community — whether reuniting a pet with its owner, rescuing an injured animal, keeping the public safe through code education or increasing resident appreciation for wildlife.

“The wildlife is here, and it is not going to go away,” explains Mike Zapata, the code enforcement and animal control manager for Frisco. “Most wildlife biologists have steered away from the old way of doing things, which was to trap an animal and then release it, because it does not work. Nature tends to fill that vacuum you have created, and you are basically giving that animal a death sentence in most circumstances.”

Ms. King says, “If you are fearful of anything, education is the best way to feel powerful. Once residents realize a [wild] animal is not here to hurt us or kill us, and we can coexist, then they have more power.”

With the increased development in Frisco, and the reduction of their habitat, wildlife is becoming more visible. Still, the strong desire to remain unseen leads wild animals to creatively use the environment around them. “Most of our greenbelts are used as highways. They follow the paths and they eat the vegetation that lives along the waterway,” explains Mr. Zapata. “Some of the other wildlife, like raccoons and opossums, tend to use our sewer system as highways, because they are kept invisible.”

Other animals, like bobcats, have “learned to take advantage of the pretty lush landscaping that people tend to put up in Frisco,” Mr. Zapata adds. “People do not realize there are bobcats setting up homes in their backyards. We have seen them under decks, under bushes, behind sheds … they do not need that much room, as long as it is hidden.” In addition, water features can attract frogs and snakes, which are prey for the bobcats.

So, short of ripping out all that expensive landscaping, what else can you do to keep your yard family-friendly, while also protecting the wildlife that originally called it home?

Hazing Techniques And Education

Head to the animal control division’s website (friscotexas.gov/131/animal-control) to learn about hazing techniques that can be used to scare wild animals away. Techniques such as yelling, waving your arms to make yourself look bigger, banging sticks and using whistles can help re-establish the animal’s natural fear of humans. “Since day one … these animals hear traffic, they hear airplanes, they hear people, they hear dogs barking, and they are accustomed to being in an urban environment,” Ms. King explains. “So, if you do not want them around, or you want them to be fearful of you, be aggressive toward them and make your presence known.”

Take the time to get educated on city codes and ordinances. A full PDF file is available on the animal control division’s website. Make sure you are familiar with pet waste ordinances, leash laws, when your pet can legally cross your property line, why your pet is required to have a rabies vaccination tag on at all times, what pets are illegal (and will result in fines or jail time) and what actions are taken when a bite is involved.

Become familiar with what attracts wildlife to your property, such as pet food and water left outside, unsecured garbage cans, fruit left on the ground, accessible vegetable gardens, intentional feeding and access to small pets.

Keep your pets inside at night and supervise them when outdoors, using a leash that is six feet long or shorter. Mr. Lerner highly recommends microchips for your pets, but strongly cautions against doggy doors. “Just like crossing a street and looking both ways because you know there is a danger,” Mr. Zapata says. “If you live in an area where wildlife is possible, take the same precautions with your pet.”

The Humane Society recommends that you teach your children to be “SMART” if they encounter wildlife. Stop and do not make any sudden moves. Make yourself look big. Announce yourself by making noise. Retreat by backing away slowly. Tell an adult. Also, ensure your children know that any overly-friendly wildlife is a sign of potential danger. “We want people to know how serious it is,” cautions Mr. Zapata. “If you contract rabies, you will die.” For that reason, rabies shots for your pets are required by both municipal and state law. (To learn more about rabies, legal requirements for bites and where the latest incidents have occurred, consider accessing additional content regarding this topic at friscostyle.com).

Finally, educate yourself and your children on the various species of wildlife that exist in our area. The more you understand them, the greater the potential to peacefully coexist.

Coyotes, Bobcats And Snakes

A coyote has long legs, a black-tipped tail and is the third-fastest land mammal in North America, reaching speeds of up to 43 mph. They are extremely intelligent and are most active at dawn and dusk. According to the Humane Society, despite being the top predator in the area, coyote attacks on people are very rare — less than 10 bites per year. Comparatively, there are 4.7 million dog bites per year, nationally.

Sometimes mistaken for a domestic cat, a mountain lion or even an ocelot, bobcats have a distinct look. They are larger than a domestic cat, but smaller than a mountain lion. Typically, bobcats are two to three feet long. Most tellingly, however, bobcats have a short, bobbed tail about four to six inches in length. According to Ms. King, no bobcat attacks on humans have been documented during her tenure.

In the entire state of Texas, there are only four venomous snakes: rattlesnakes, water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes. All are very rare. “Snakes will visit to get rid of things you probably do not want anyway,” Mr. Zapata points out. “So, we let people know that snakes are not bad. I have caught thousands of snakes in this area, and I have yet to find a venomous one.” Ms. King suggests posting pictures of the four venomous snakes on your fridge, so everyone in your family becomes familiar with what they look like.

Frisco’s animal control division is experienced and here to help local residents stay safe. Their passion for animals and for their community shows and makes all the difference. More information about other common species to the area, as well as information regarding pet registration, animal shelters, contact phone numbers, hours of operation and many other resources are available online.

Amy Richmond is a writer who relishes faith, family, intriguing conversations and inspiring words. She wishes time could be saved in a bottle because one lifetime is not enough.