GC VILLAGE — Fluffy gets out of the house, goes for a jaunt through the forest and ends up being trapped by the National Park Service. With no collar, the cat is sent to the Coconino County Humane Society in Flagstaff where his owners must claim the animal within a designated time.
Grand Canyon resident Judy Walker walks the family dog, Mercedes, on a trail near her house. Walker, a lifelong Grand Canyon resident, remembers a time years ago when residents were not allowed to have pets.
Incidents such as those have become common in Grand Canyon National Park this summer. In one two-week stretch earlier this month, local wildlife officials trapped 20 dogs and cats running loose. Of those, 19 did not have collars and were taken to the Flagstaff. The lone animal with identification was taken to Grand Canyon Kennel.
"This is the worst I’ve ever seen it in this park in my seven years," GCNP wildlife biologist Elaine Leslie said during a General Management Park meeting two weeks ago. "We’re just not going to tolerate loose pets in the park anymore."
A recent outbreak of rabies and plague among native wildlife throughout northern Arizona have caused the situation to be taken seriously. The NPS does have a pet policy and they advise pet owners to own a copy.
"We’re enforcing this ... and animals are being trapped," Leslie said. "To get out of the kennel here, people are cited and are out to lose their pet privileges."
And that’s how the NPS views the ownership of pets within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park — as a privilege. Leslie said officials do not want to revoke pet privileges but must take action to combat the out-of-hand situation.
Besides the rabies and plague concerns, some pets have become a hazard to other residents and visitors.
"Just recently, a child was bitten by a dog," Leslie said. "The dog was not leashed at the time. We had problems with that dog before."
The dog, owned by a 47-year-old local resident, bit the child on July 2. The owner was cited.
Various other incidents involving pets have been reported in past months by Grand Canyon rangers. Back on May 20, a 7-year-old local boy was bitten by a dog and on Feb. 13, a 48-year-old local resident was cited when he didn’t restrain his pet after it escaped its Trailer Village pen and attacked a woman on her way to work.
The high majority of animals trapped in recent weeks have been cats, Leslie said.
Leslie said NPS wildlife officials are using traps to catch the loose animals. They are set up in the morning and checked at the end of the day. Those caught tampering with the traps will be cited.
Besides, pet protection, the NPS also encourages residents to remember a few things to help protect the park’s wildlife. Dog and cat food should not be left outside where wild animals feed. Wild animals will come to rely on that food source and will lose interest to feed and live in forested areas.
Wildlife should never be fed. The intentional feeding or placing of any kind of food for wildlife, feral or stay animals (including seeds, nuts, hay, etc.) is prohibited by law.
The NPS issued a statement about enforcement of the resident pet policy. Following are rules and regulations outlined in the policy:
o Pets must be under physical restraint at all times when outside, either by means of a leash on a temporary basis or within a fenced enclosure on a permanent basis. Voice commands do not satisfy the law.
o Pets running at large and observed by authorized law-enforcement personnel in the act of killing, injuring or molesting humans or wildlife, including native bird species, small or large mammals or reptiles, may be disposed of in the interest of public safety and for the protection of native wildlife within the park.
o All dogs must be licensed in accordance with Coconino County regulations. Other domestic pets do not require licensing, but should have appropriate vaccinations pertinent to proper animal care.
o Dogs must wear a registration or identification tag at all times. It is strongly recommended that all pets capable of accidentally escaping wear an ID tag. Animals without tags will be considered feral or stay animals and are subject to impound or disposal in accordance with enforcement procedures listed in the pet policy.
o Pets will not be allowed to defecate in another resident’s yard or in a place where sanitation is a problem, such as pedestrian walkways, streets or play areas. The pet owner is responsible for the proper disposal of the pet’s fecal matter. Bring a scooper and paper or plastic bag along on a walk. Citations will be issued to violators.
o Pets in violation of the rules and regulations of the pet policy will be impounded and taken to the Grand Canyon Kennel or the Coconino County Humane Society. The pet will be released to the owner upon payment of accrued kennel fees and any fines resulting from citations issued by park rangers.
o Intense trapping and enforcement of the policy will be ongoing. Those caught tampering with traps will be subject to a mandatory citation and loss of pet privileges.