By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
The Steiner Ranch HOA received reports of two cases in the last several days where domestic dogs were killed by wildlife. One of these, Four Points News reported on November 19, was the Mullen family pet of a decade which was killed in their backyard before sunrise near the Westridge Park.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is aware of the situation of wildlife and is conducting an active investigation in Steiner Ranch of these cases.
Wildlife in Four Points that could prey on domestic animals include coyotes — which have been spotted in abundance in Steiner — and more recently was a reported of a large feline, possibly a bobcat or mountain lion.
Last week, the Steiner Ranch HOA emailed to homeowners information from Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department to help educate the community on mountain lions and urban coyotes.
The Steiner HOA message pointed out that the area is surrounded by preserve and open space land where many different species of wildlife live. Many of these animals make their way into the neighborhood and are searching for prey, such as rabbits, squirrels and in some cases pets.
Mountain lions are also known as cougars, pumas and panthers.
Adam Kristoff, of Steiner Ranch, saw panther and cougar sightings in River Place the year he opened Cool Creek Family Dental in 2011, and at least once a year since.
“In fact, my office overlooks Panther Hollow which is the canyon in the preserve between River Place and Steiner Ranch. The cats have always been there but I think it is interesting we are seeing activity from them in the mists of all of the latest development in the area,” Kristoff said.
Kristoff thinks it seems likely that the Water Treatment Plant 4, new neighborhoods, apartments, and the power line project in the preserve are causing the animals to look for new opportunities due to habitat loss.
“Realizing that’s well over 100 acres of noisy construction, it’s surprising we didn’t see this sooner,” Kristoff said.
Local resident Rod Reid runs in Panther Hollow basin often and has seen what he calls very big cats a few different times.
“There are big cats in the area for sure,” Reid said. “There’s so much protected from development, it makes a practical smorgasbord for these cats.”
Trina Sherman said she saw what appeared to be a mountain lion cross the road in front of her one night by the Steiner Ranch Steakhouse about a year and a half ago.
“I saw the cat and I called 311 and the Steakhouse since it looked like it was going to their dumpsters,” she said. “I called animal control and I saw game warden the next day but not sure if they ever caught it.”
Kristoff hears of wildlife sighting at his office. Families in Long Canyon off of RM 2222 are seeing more coyotes, he said.
“We all love being surrounded by the wilderness here, and the wildlife is just a part of it. Since it’s rare people get attacked, I hope we just use some common sense. Take basic precautions to watch our kids and pets,” he said.
TX Parks & Wildlife
Kelly Simon, urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, thinks the Mullen family pet was killed by a large dog based on the description rather than a mountain lion as their veterinarian suspects.
“Mountain lions attack from above, tend to puncture the neck and upper back, and will remove the carcass of the prey to another site in order to feed. If it isn’t able to feed right away, it will cache it by covering the body with leaves and other debris,” Simon said.
She further notes that, “dogs often attack from the rear, but usually will bite all over the body during the attack. The body will be mauled and in terrible condition. Dogs don’t eat their kills – the body may be ripped apart, but it will all be there.”
The Steiner Ranch HOA wants to encourage residents to take safety precautions while they are outside with their pets and children.
“Keep your pets on a leash while out walking, use a flashlight while out after dark and closely supervise your children while playing outside,” the HOA email stated.
TPW’s Simon also encourages the neighborhood to step up efforts to control stray dogs and enforce leash laws.
She added that people should “not allow dogs to roam neighborhoods, whether they are stray or owned. Accompany their pets outside, and maintain fences that prevent non-pet dogs from entering.”
Avoid storing pet food or human refuse that might attract dogs outside, or to store it in sealed, lockable containers, she said.
“Feeding pets outside is a sure way to attract unwanted animals including stray dogs that might try to dominate an alpha pet in order to get their food,” Simon said. “That will be the most effective way to control this kind of attack.”