Environment

Denver Urban Wildlife Guide With Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: How to Stay Safe

A raccoon caught on surveillance camera sneaking through a pet door.
A raccoon caught on surveillance camera sneaking through a pet door. YouTube
Editor's note: Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, a veterinarian at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital as well as a star of two past Animal Planet programs, Emergency Vets and E-Vet Interns, and a regular on the Denver standup comedy scene, recently told us about rattlesnake facts and myths. This is the third post in a new series about urban wildlife in Denver. Click to read our previous offerings, "Denver Urban Wildlife Guide With Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: Meet Your Neighbors" and "Denver Urban Wildlife Guide With Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: Diseases and Dangers."

Encounters with urban wildlife are becoming much more common among residents of Denver and other communities along the Front Range. Here's just one example.

One morning a couple of months or so ago, my mother, who lives in Fort Collins, awoke to find several uninvited visitors in her kitchen: a mother raccoon and an entire family of kits, as babies of the species are called.

How did they get in? Turns out my mom has a pet door for her cat, who spends much of her time outside. And as Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald noted in the previous installment of our Denver urban wildlife guide, raccoons are intelligent and adaptable. Given that many of the critters — particularly ones that have lived in a city environment for a while — are able to figure out how to open a variety of trash cans, a pet door is a snap.


No doubt the mother raccoon scented the food my mom keeps for her cat and pushed through the pet door — and her offspring happily followed her lead.

click to enlarge Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald has lived a wild life. - YOUTUBE
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald has lived a wild life.
Fortunately, this story has a benign ending. My mom was able to literally sweep the kits and caboodle back outside using a broom. But not everyone is so lucky. Raccoons are aggressive and have been known to attack people and pets — including folks trying to get between them and their feed.

But Fitzgerald doesn't want locals to freak out over the prospect of coming face to face with urban wildlife of the sort that's common in the Denver area; Fitzgerald's main list consists of "mice and rats, pigeons, raccoons and squirrels, coyotes, bats, skunks, foxes, rabbits, prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, and I include deer."

He even thinks pet doors are okay. "They can be a good thing," he says. "But you've got to be vigilant."

This last word is key when it comes to Fitzgerald's tips to sharing an environment with urban wildlife, as you'll see below.

By the way, we've linked to the Wikipedia pages of diseases mentioned by Fitzgerald, to provide extra information about their symptoms and effects.

Fight the Fear

"Urban wildlife is everyone around us these days. There are places in the metro area where we might get 5,500 rodents per hectare, which is 100 meters on each side. These field mice are the bread of the prairie. All kinds of animals eat them — but they're also a natural reservoir for hantavirus, which is transmitted in feces and saliva. If these guys pop into a place like a barn, people can breathe it in. And while it's treatable with antibiotics, it can be fatal if untreated.

"That's why knowing about these things is so important. If we know about these dangers, we can keep ourselves and our pets safe."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts