(Updated 12:30 p.m.) Don’t pet or feed wild animals. In fact, local animal control encourages you to haze them if they get too close to the house or if you feel threatened.
As winter sets in, homes around Fairfax County could look particularly appealing to animals looking for a refuge for the cold weather or a bite to eat. Sergeant Alena Swartz, Animal Control Officer for Fairfax County, urges local citizens to resist the urge to let the wildlife in.
“If you have anything that might be seen as a good nesting area, like under sheds or low-rise porches, a lot of animals can use that as a den,” said Swartz. “You don’t want them denning in your yard, you want them in the woods.”
If an animal is simply moving across the property, Swartz says it’s fine to let them pass, but sometimes animals can come too close to the proximity of the house and conflict can occur when the animals become too comfortable around humans.
Swartz said to make sure to check under those areas first before they are closed in or any animals trapped inside could starve. Swartz recommended placing loose dirt below holes being closed up to be able to check later and see if an animal has attempted to scratch or dig out from the inside. If there are signs of activity, call pest control.
Overall, Swartz said the seasonal change doesn’t the types of animals seen around the area, though squirrel infestations are more common in the spring and summer. But Swartz said Fairfax residents are still likely to see foxes, raccoons, or the odd coyote or two throughout the winter months.
If residents spot a fox or coyote in their yard, Swartz said residents should do everything they can to scare the animal away, both for the safety of residents and for the animal.
“Get a can… shake things around,” Swartz said. “Try to scare them away. Foxes will sometimes just become acclimated to that, so you really have to make sure you scare them away.”
If the animal persists, Swartz says residents should throw rocks near the animals, though not directly at them.
Swartz said animals becoming too acclimated to humans can lead to wild animals changing their behavior in ways that may hinder their survival.
“Don’t want them thinking okay be to be around people,” said Swartz. “Don’t leave pet food outside, what [your pets] don’t eat take up and bring in, or [wild animals] see that as a food source. They’ll think ‘why try to find my own food when I can come here?’ We need them to maintain a fear of us or they stop doing what they normally do.”
Swartz said that the amount of wildlife around Fairfax hasn’t shown a substantial change, but as the communities grow and expand they are taking away resources from that wildlife and sightings become more common as humans encroach on their habitat.
For most animal sightings, Swartz said local residents should contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) at 1-855-571-9003. The DGIF deals largely with animals that are considered nuisances, like a groundhog repeatedly pilfering a local garden. But for animals that appear sick or injured, Swartz says to contact animal protection police at 703-691-2131.
Photo courtesy Brandy Schantz