In remote rural regions of Riverside County like Anza, California, residents face a growing crisis – packs of unsupervised dogs attacking and killing livestock, pets, and wildlife. Despite the clear threat these violent canine packs pose, tracking and managing the issue has proven a jurisdictional gray area. This blog post examines the escalating concerns in Riverside County and the complex challenges in reining in the roving, aggressive dog packs.
Dangerous Encounters in Remote Rural Areas
- Visitors to desolate back roads describe packs of dogs suddenly emerging, growling and surrounding vehicles
- Earlier in 2022, one pack slaughtered two sheep and a herd of goats
- In 2018, woman killed by a roving pack of canines in Anza
- Locals now fear walking certain roads due to risk of “bush puppy” attacks
Per animal control officer Harvey Beck:
“It’s not the dogs behind fences you need to worry about – it’s the ones wandering freely.”
Dog Attacks Rising Nationwide
The Anza dog attacks reflect a broader trend of dogs inflicting escalating harm, especially to livestock:
- Dogs are 2nd most lethal predator of livestock after coyotes
- Responsible for 11.3% of cattle/calf predator kills versus 4.9% for wolves
- Dog caused sheep deaths jumped over 10,000 from 2014 to 2019
Federal and State Wildlife Agencies Shirking Issue
Despite the stats on dog attacks, state and national agencies claim it falls outside their jurisdiction:
- USDA spokeswoman: Can’t determine if attacks by feral or pet dogs
- California Department of Fish & Wildlife: “Not something we generally deal with”
This gap in accountability has left the crisis unaddressed.
Lack of Research Compounds the Problem
Beyond jurisdiction issues, a dearth of research on threats posed by free-roaming dogs hinders potential solutions:
- Former USDA ecologist Julie Young: Managing dogs seen as “gray area”
- Little data on differentiating feral dogs from unleashed pets
- Ranchers cite government stats and personal experience as proof
Riverside County Steps Up Mitigation Efforts
In responding to the escalation locally, Riverside County agencies are focusing on communication and preventative measures versus purely reactive enforcement:
- Brought spay/neuter buses to region
- Host vaccination/education clinics
- Urging residents to restrain pets indoors/behind fences
Per animal services commander Josh Sisler:
“The better approach is one of communication and education.”
But even these efforts struggle to contain the worst offenders.
Remote Terrain Enables Dogs to Flout Controls
Tracking and stopping dogs in Anza’s sprawling 361 sq. mile region covered in thick brush is an uphill battle:
- Dogs hide then vanish onto reservation land
- New dogs dumped by owners constantly replenish uncontrolled population
The remote terrain enables the packs to operate unchecked.
Broad Impacts Beyond Livestock Attacks
While threats to livestock are most visible, roving dogs also inflict harm on wildlife:
- Attack kit foxes, desert tortoises and other endangered species
- Don’t need to kill to impair populations – stress/harassment hinders breeding
- Lack natural hunting skills – makes attacks more traumatic
Even occasional disturbance can devastate endangered animal populations.
Suburbanization Brings Changing Attitudes
Long-time ranchers note clashing perspectives on dogs between old-timers and new exurban arrivals:
- Old view: dogs threatening livestock would be shot
- New residents oppose harming nuisance dogs
These cultural shifts further tie the hands of harried animal control agencies.
Conclusion: Issue Demands Broader Attention
Riverside County urgently needs support addressing its free-roaming dog packs beyond current piecemeal local mitigation efforts. From risking endangered species to fueling traumatic livestock deaths, the roving packs demand scrutiny from higher level wildlife authorities regarding the true damage unchecked dogs can inflict. Only through embracing feral dogs as a statewide wildlife management issue can California begin getting the rapidly intensifying crisis under control.