The barking impact

This post is also available in: Dutch.

A good friend alerted us to something that generally triggers mixed feelings when discussed. Dogs. Although way too many people treat dogs as some sort of low-cost enslaved security solution, there are those that incorporated ‘men’s best friend’ within their inner circle. Which is heartwarming, to be sure. In general, these caring souls also like to make use of the natural environment for their own, and their dog’s, enjoyment. And this is where the conflict starts, unfortunately.

As long as a dog is kept on a leash, not too much is to be said against the activity. Only a sporadic bark might be held against the animal and it’s owner. But when dogs are allowed to run free, it is a totally different matter. In order to shed some light on what might be the consequences of pet dogs running around in nature, I would like to sum up some potential impacts:

Cute and tame "Bobby" might be harmless, but watch what happens when a cottontail hops by...

Dogs are potential top predators

Let’s face it, not too long ago there were no Jack Russels, Rotweilers, Dachshunds or Poodles. There were Wolves. At some time, inventive minds figured out ways to redesign the wolf into something more manageable and useful to humans. But one trait proved difficult to get rid of: hunting behavior. This means, that every dog will hunt, when it gets the chance, even a Chihuahua in pink doll clothes. A solitary stray dog will not be too successful, in general, in capturing prey. But the poor bird or rabbit that became the focus of such an aborted mission needed to expend large amounts of valuable energy in order to get away, energy that is indispensable for its survival in the semi-arid environment of Curacao. The nett result is a weakening of the defense systems of such ‘quasi-prey’ making it easy prey for other – natural – predators.
Wolves are intelligent pack hunters, so dogs do have the same potential capabilities. If a group of dogs is allowed to run free, the nett result might well be much more lethal than a sole amateur. Just as an example: someone I know in the Netherlands owns several greyhounds. One day, while she let them rummage around in the woods in the vicinity of where she lives, the animals succeeded in hunting down and killing an adult deer. It might have been a trait of these dogs, some genetic programming left over from their wolf days, but the actions of the dog owner – unleashing them within a nature area – were inexcusable, in my opinion.

Dogs produce poo

Yep, what goes in comes out, in an unpleasant package. This package is disgusting for other visitors of the area to encounter, but it also enriches the soils in an unnatural way. Especially the ecology of semi-arid areas, like Curacao, revolves around a beautifully fine-tuned cycle of nutrient. The addition of nitrates and phosphates from other sources might induce a dis-balance within such systems. This might result in the preferential growth of non-native species.

Not the type of organic matter one expects to find on a nature trail.

Dog actions lower the pleasure levels of other visitors

Apart form the excrements, which are especially annoying to ‘non-dog’ people, the presence of dogs tend to lower the level of biodiversity along walking trails. This means, that other visitors to the area, which might have come specifically for the enjoyment of the wildlife experience, will get to see a lot less. Furthermore, some people are really scared of dogs, which dog owners tend to consider stupid behavior. But these ‘scared people’ have the same right to enjoy the trail as the dog lovers.

Dog lovers, please take note

Instead of making enemies by alienating dog owners, I would like to propose a pact. I would like dog owners to realize, that their dogs are part of their inner, humanized, environment. Nature should have remained part of societies inner circle, but unfortunately we have been quite successful in redesigning our environment in such way, that pure natural areas are now extremely scarce. Instead of introducing too much elements of our artificial, humanized, environment to these few nature areas, let’s make use of these special places with the least impact as possible. Dog owners: please let your dogs do ‘their thing’ in places which can not be harmed by them. Or if you really, really, really want to share the natural environment with your buddy, please keep him or her on the leash, and urge the animal to tone it’s natural barking tendencies down a little. For everyone’s enjoyment and to the benefit of wildlife, of those species with historical rights of existence! Deal?

About Leon Pors