Scooby, the Bernalillo golden retriever who died in 2003 after ingesting antifreeze, was awarded a posthumous Milagro Award by Animal Protection of New Mexico at their October 23 benefit, for the work that is now being done in his name to protect animals and children from antifreeze poisoning.
Scooby became famous— in life, and later in death—for surviving a gunshot wound to his face administered by an off-duty policeman who felt threatened by him. Tragically, he recovered from his wounds only to die a short time later, after ingesting antifreeze left in his yard by an unknown person.
Since Scooby's death, activists and government officials have been using his memory to prevent ongoing tragedies like Scooby's. Every year, thousands of people and many more thousands of dogs, cats, and wild creatures suffer or die an agonizing death from drinking antifreeze; as little as a teaspoon of spilled fluid can kill a cat or a small dog. Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is both toxic and sweet-tasting, attracting pets, wildlife, and even children.
Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez is one local official who has not let Scooby die in vain. Chavez introduced a law that would require that any antifreeze made with ethylene glycol to be sold in Albuquerque have the bittering agent denatonium benzoate added. This agent makes the antifreeze taste bitter, thus repelling children and animals from tasting it. “Scooby's Law” was passed in January of this year, and Chavez has since used the city's Safe City Strike Force to check local businesses for compliance.
Other cities in New Mexico to pass the law include Santa Fe, Corrales, Rio Rancho, and Los Ranchos; Gary Miles of Placitas Animal Rescue has been trying to get a similar law passed in Bernalillo.
Since that time, Mayor Chavez has been on a mission, working to ensure that municipalities throughout the state, and indeed, the nation, all adopt similar laws. Chavez presented Scooby's Law to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June, who adopted a resolution urging Congress to pass federal antifreeze-safety legislation this year. (HR 1563, cosponsored by Representatives Gary Ackerman and Dana Rohrabacher, is the federal version of Scooby's Law; the bill has been stalled in the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection since early 2003.)
Additionally, in September, Mayor Chavez presented the law to the New Mexico Municipal League; the League adopted a resolution supporting the passage of a statewide antifreeze safety bill. In 2003, former State Senator Richard Romero introduced SB 50, known as the "Antifreeze Safety Act" into the New Mexico Senate where it passed in February of this year, but its companion bill, HB 411, died in the eleventh hour in the House Committee on Business and Industry after opposition by antifreeze manufacturers and their lobbyists. This bill, like the local bills, required that antifreeze containing more than 10 percent ethylene glycol include denatonium benzoate.
Newly elected State Representative Kathy McCoy (R-Sandia Park) will be reintroducing the bill in the 2005 session and says that the bill is a no-brainer, given the incredibly low costs—two to three cents per $7 container of antifreeze—and the lack of downside to the environment or to cars. Representative McCoy also has a personal interest in seeing the bill pass, since she lost her own dog to antifreeze poisoning some years ago. She also points out that passage of a statewide bill would make New Mexico a leader in terms of protecting animals and children.
Viki Elkey, campaign manager for APNM, says, "We are confident that Scooby's law will pass during the 2005 session—with bipartisan support in Santa Fe, in addition to support from numerous community advocates, elected officials and Governor Richardson. Adopting this law will prove New Mexicans are serious about protecting children and animals." California and Oregon have both passed similar statewide laws.
Many New Mexicans will be watching our legislators carefully in the upcoming session to ensure that Scooby's Law passes. But even without the law, you can do your part to prevent another tragedy:
After using antifreeze, wipe up any spills and securely close all containers; store clearly marked containers safely out of reach of children and pets.
Check your car regularly for leaks and don't allow children or pets near when you are draining radiator fluid from your car.
Purchase antifreeze made with propylene glycol, which can be safely ingested in small amounts (the container should have an animal-safe message on the label).
If you suspect a child or animal has ingested antifreeze (symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, listlessness, and seizures), seek medical attention immediately.
Douglas Barr, the Albuquerque attorney for Scooby's family, reminds us that Americans commit more violent acts than citizens from any other nation, and New Mexico is not immune from this trend. To counter this, he would like to see Scooby's death represent more than just a series of violent acts on an innocent animal. He asks, "Have we become so hardened to violence that we would rather save a few pennies than the life of a child or animal?" He adds, "Let's show the world that New Mexico is not a foreign country filled with violence, but a state that puts the safety of all its creatures ahead of costs."
A coyote is rescued from a hunter’s trap by Placitas Animal Rescue
Living with coyotes
For the past four years, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has killed over twelve hundred coyotes, via such methods as trapping, denning, and aerial gunning, in order to increase the mule-deer population in the state. Unfortunately, after years of deadly control programs, researchers have found that numbers of deer did not increase, pointing to what many biologists and environmentalists have long known: that lethal coyote control is not an effective way to increase deer populations. In fact, deer numbers have been declining for years due to environmental factors such as drought, and human factors such as urban sprawl, both of which have decreased the habitat for the deer. Unless we find a way to increase and improve the habitat available for deer and other endangered wildlife, the situation will only worsen. Happily for coyotes, however, in 2003, Game and Fish halted, for the time being, future plans for coyote control.
Though coyotes are not currently in danger from Game and Fish, the USDA's Wildlife Services still operate lethal control programs in this state to the tune of thousands of coyotes per year, primarily to protect livestock. Coyotes are the greatest threat to livestock—especially sheep and goats—in New Mexico, and in our area are a threat to domestic pets as well. Because of this, many hunters, ranchers, and even home owners have taken matters into their own hands, shooting, trapping, poisoning, or using greyhounds to kill coyotes to protect their livestock or pets. (Currently, coyotes in New Mexico can be killed on either public or private lands if considered a threat.)
How can we learn to live peacefully with coyotes? It helps to know something about their behavior so that we can protect our pets and also ensure that this beautiful, intelligent animal is able to survive.
The coyote is much smaller than many people realize, weighing only twenty-five to thirty pounds and standing barely two feet high. Their slight stature makes them seem more like a dog than a predator, leading many to underestimate the danger that they can pose. They are monogamous, mating for years, and the female bears her pups once a year, usually in April or May, with the pups emerging from the den after two weeks of age, and leaving for good after six to nine months. The territorial range for adult coyotes ranges from five to twenty square miles, and adolescents will sometimes settle as far as fifty miles from their place of birth.
Coyotes are opportunistic hunters and scavengers, and in our area rabbits are the main food source, along with rodents and birds. They hunt alone, most often at night or at dusk, or a pair will work cooperatively to ambush and herd their victims. In New Mexico, most of the coyote's natural predators have disappeared, leaving humans as the greatest cause of coyote mortality. Because of this, coyotes are very wary of humans and will typically avoid us whenever possible.
On the other hand, thanks to urban and suburban development, as well as overgrazing on prairies and rangelands, we are rapidly depleting the natural cover and food used by rabbits, prairie dogs, and other coyote food sources, leaving some coyotes, especially during the pup-rearing months of the summer, to prey on livestock and pets.
How can we prevent our pets from becoming prey? Common sense is most useful here. Never feed a coyote, and if you see one near your home, throw objects, make noise, spray them with a hose, and behave in a threatening fashion. Never allow cats or dogs to run free. (Even larger dogs can be at risk if they are allowed to run free during the denning season; coyotes will act to protect their young at all costs.) Coyotes are also attracted to human and pet food, so do not feed pets outside. Make your garbage or compose pile inaccessible, clean up decaying fruit from underneath fruit trees, and move your bird feeders away from the home, regularly cleaning spilled seed. Never leave your cat or small dog in a yard that does not have at least a six-foot fence. Even then, coyotes can shimmy underneath fences, so fences should extend at least six inches below ground level. Finally, clear tall brush and grass from around your property to reduce protective cover for coyotes to hide in. Most of these measures will protect your pets from other killers as well, both wild and man-made, so following them can keep your pets safe on all fronts.
The coyote, with its eerie ventriloquial midnight aria, is an enduring symbol of the Southwest, and the trickster coyote is one of the primary characters of many Native American legends. We have to remember that we have moved into the territory occupied by coyotes and other wild animals, many now endangered or extinct. It is up to us to protect our beloved pets. Doing so will have the added benefit of reducing the need to kill these intelligent, complicated creatures and to blame wildlife for what is, after all, a problem caused by human encroachment into wildlands.