By Steven Graham
Sentinel and Transcript Newspapers
Green Mountain hikers have new four-legged friends thanks to Prairie Dog Specialists Inc.
The operation has a fancy name and an embroidered logo on hats and shirts. However, PDS is actually two Jefferson County women who volunteer time on weekends to relocate prairie dogs throughout the metro area. Kathy Boucher and Becky Deck have been helping prairie dogs find new homes for six years.
With a couple of volunteers, they recently moved 37 prairie dogs from the Bear Creek Greenbelt to Green Mountain. Boucher said they are also ready to spring into action to move a colony near the Columbine High School soccer fields. However, she said they can't find a new home for the group. Jeffco R-1 School District officials plan to poison the animals before a soccer camp starts Aug. 5.
However, two Lakewood colonies have been spared. Boucher and Deck worked with Boucher's son, Adam, and Jeffco Open School environmental science teacher Judith Miller Smith on July 20 and 21 to move 14 prairie dogs near the stone house at West Yale Avenue and South Estes Street. Bill Jewell, manager of regional parks and golf for the city of Lakewood, said neighbors had complained about the animals encroaching on their yards.
The crew returned July 27 to move 23 animals from another group farther west on the greenbelt. The prairie dogs had moved over and under barriers near a greenhouse. Jewell said cyclists had complained about the animals approaching the bike trail.
The group released all the dogs on the west side of Lakewood's Green Mountain Park. Boucher said there were plenty of burrows for them to inhabit because a large colony had been wiped out by the plague three years ago. She said an area is only contaminated for roughly one year so the relocated animals are not at risk.
"It looked dry but prairie dogs are well-adapted to dry prairies, especially to drought conditions," Miller Smith said.
Boucher and Deck provide the service for free in an effort to save prairie dogs from poisoning. They move them by flushing soapy water into their burrows. The soap stings their eyes, coaxing them out of the holes. Deck and Boucher reach deep into the hole, up to their elbows in soapy water, feeling for rodent heads.
When they feel a prairie dog, they grab the animal by the shoulders and pull it out, wrap it in towels and hold it in pet carriers filled with hay for munching and hiding.
Lakewood has paid only for a city water truck for use during the three moves. Boucher has provided the soap and other supplies. She said she can better ensure they have enough soap. She also had another concern.
"This soap has aloe so it doesn't chafe their skin," she said.
Deck said she enjoys the work but said prairie dogs often need not be moved. She said the fear of health risks is unfounded.
"They're not a threat to people," Deck said. "They can't carry plague. Often the way to tell if a prairie dog has the plague is if he's dead."
The Centers for Disease Control officially is opposed to moving prairie dogs for human health reasons. The animals have very little immunity to the plague, which can kill animals within hours. Deck said plague can wipe out entire prairie dog towns within two or three days. Furthermore, plague-carrying fleas in prairie dog colonies are unlikely to bite humans.
Regardless, she said most landowners are unwilling to accept the animals. State law requires explicit approval from both counties when moving prairie dogs across county lines.
"You can move any other animal, but you try to move a prairie dog and all kinds of bells go off," Deck said.
Published Aug. 1, 2002
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