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

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click to enlarge Prairie dogs in Colorado can be plague carriers. - YOUTUBE
Prairie dogs in Colorado can be plague carriers.
Safety First

"Have your pets regularly examined by a veterinarian. It's important that we find diseases early. If we do, a lot of conditions are treatable. If we don't, they can be fatal.

"You also need to keep companion animals' vaccines up to date. That's especially important with rabies vaccines. We see the rabies virus all over Colorado. It can happen to any mammal. We see a lot of it in bats and animals that can be aggressive toward people and pets: skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes.

"Avoid contact with stray and unfamiliar wild animals. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that animals can pass to humans, and they can pass them by bites, scratches, ticks, fleas, parasites or if you breathe in or ingest their infected feces or urine.


"Cook meat until it's well-cooked and not pink. That's especially important with rabbits, which a lot of people eat. Rabbits can carry tularemia. We see a lot of that in Colorado.

"Wash your hands after you handle any animal, and don't handle dead carcasses bare-handed. It's easy to do if you're not thinking about it — like if you find a bird out in your yard that's died. But birds can carry diseases, too. For one thing, their droppings can contain histoplasmosis. Bat droppings, too."

click to enlarge Rats and field mice can make homes in clutter left alongside residences. - YOUTUBE
Rats and field mice can make homes in clutter left alongside residences.
Protecting the Home Front

"Keeping pet food inside is a big one. Don't feed your pets on the porch, and don't keep dishes outside, where skunks and foxes and raccoons can find them. Because they learn. And once they learn where they can find food, they'll keep coming back.

"Keep brush and debris and clutter away from your house. Areas of clutter provide places for rodents to hide. It's an environment they can live in, and many rodents will capitalize and use human habitations.

"Don't store trash where animals can be attracted to it, and use containers that are latchable. Look at bears in ski areas and in the mountains, where they're attracted to trash cans at night. But even latches aren't foolproof. We know that from the raccoons."

The Bottom Line

"Why study urban wildlife? Why is it important? Because we want to preserve urban wildlife. We want to preserve diversity. We want to understand these species. We want to understand what characteristics can tolerate human presence.

"We also want to reduce property damage. Squirrels and so forth can be so destructive to things like electrical outlets and whatnot. And we want to avoid human-wildlife — people getting bitten — and identify potential zoonosis.

"We need to know about all these things in places like Denver. Because, after all, we're already living together."
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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.
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