Division of Wildlife officials think one of the animals suspected of eating cats and other domesticated animals this summer is a fox with a skin disease.
A few weeks ago, the Steamboat Springs Police Department obtained a photo of an animal that many think could have been responsible for the disappearance of residential cats this summer.
Valerie Masiello, DOW District Wildlife manager for the Steamboat South area, reviewed the photo along with other area biologists. She thinks it is a fox with mange or another skin disorder.
Masiello did note that the picture from the police department made the animal appear larger than what eyewitnesses have reported.
"The animal should not be considered more of a danger than any other wild animal, but without fur to keep it warm, its caloric demands are high, and it will eat constantly to sustain itself," Masiello said.
She said it is possible for the creature to be a feral dog, a once domestic dog no longer in contact with humans, but thinks the more likely explanation is that the animal is a hairless fox.
Hairless foxes are not rare in Steamboat Springs, and Masiello said DOW officials tend to see some every year. Some of the foxes can regain their fur, though those who do not grow back fur most likely will not survive the winter.
"It's natural selection at work, and every species has a number of diseases that affect it," she said.
Masiello advised pet owners to not allow domesticated animals outside unsupervised and to keep yards clear of attractants to wildlife such as pet food, barbecue grills and garbage. And she emphasized that residents should never feed wildlife.
"The lesson is the same as any other wildlife conflict -- that pets belong inside, especially at night, and dogs belong on leashes," Masiello said.
Valeria MacDonald with the DOW said she fielded about 10 calls this summer about the hairless fox, most coming from the Whistler area. Since September, she said, there have been no phone calls to the DOW about the animal. Different coyote-looking animals also were spotted in the area this summer, MacDonald said.
On July 1, Steamboat Springs animal control Officer Sanna Pollack confirmed that there had been 50 reports of missing cats in the city since May.
Masiello said a number of circumstances occurred this summer leading to the disappearance of the domestic animals. The animal in the police department's photo is just one of the culprits suspected in the animals' disappearances.
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