Dog Owners: Yes, The Rules Do Apply To You

Just as most people are aware of the damage feral cats wreak on the environment but are silent about the damage feral dogs do, people are far quicker to view the friendly neighbourhood kittycat as the harbinger of death than they are slobbery Fido. But while outdoor pet cats tend to stick to their immediate vicinity, domestic dogs are being actively brought into parks and nature reserves and oftentimes let off-leash…whether permitted or not.

You might not like it, but the rules are there for a reason.

As much fun as your dog may be having, signs stating they’re not allowed to be off-leash (and possibly not in the park at all) are there for a reason.  Although it may seem as though the dog is “just playing”, dogs are still predators, and wildlife perceives them as such.  Many breeds were, after all, created for the purpose of assisting with hunting. They are doing far more damage than their owners often acknowledge, from disrupting ground-nesting birds, or killing juvenile birds and animals who lack the skills necessary to escape, to chasing animals away from their food sources.

Dog attacks are responsible for a significant number of animals being sent to wildlife rescue centres – one Australian study showed that although cars were overwhelmingly #1, dogs – not cats – were #2.  Black Flying Fox Master Jaffar, below, is one such victim: his mother died after an off-leash dog killed her, and he sustained several bites to his head and required a tear along his cheek to be sewn up. Still think your dog is “just playing”?

Master Jaffar after entering human care.  Image credit: Batzilla the Bat

Note the injury on Master Jaffar’s head, along with the stitching across his cheek. Image credit: Batzilla the Bat

Even if the dogs aren’t running amok, their presence is enough to cause damage, which is the reason they are banned in some areas. The following study states that:

“The presence of dogs causes most wildlife to move away from an area, which temporarily or permanently reduces the amount of functionally available habitat to wildlife. The research is clear that people with dogs disturb wildlife more than humans alone,” and that “two hikers disturbed an area of 3.7 hectares walking near wild sheep, whereas two hikers with dogs disturbed 7.5 hectares around the sheep. In Chicago, migratory songbirds were less abundant in yards with dogs. Dog walking in Australian woodlands led to a 35% reduction in bird diversity and a 41% reduction in the overall number of birds. The same study showed some disturbance of birds by humans, but typically less than half that induced by dogs.”

Further, “chronic stress such as repeated disturbances over time may reduce wildlife health, reproduction, growth, impair the immune system and increase vulnerability to parasites and diseases.  Dogs cause wildlife to be more alert, which reduces feeding, sleeping, grooming and breeding activities and wastes vital energy stores that may mean life or death when resources are low, such as during winter or reproduction.

It is often said that you can’t claim to love birds if you allow your cat to go outdoors.  It could thus be argued that you can’t claim to love nature if you allow your dog off-leash or bring your dog into areas you aren’t allowed to.  For the sake of the other species we share this world with, if you must let your dog off-leash, stick to dedicated dog parks and please obey the rules elsewhere.

And to the responsible dog owners who do obey the rules: thank you.

Further reading: You’re Worried About The Wrong Animal Attack

Donate to Batzilla the Bat and help fund the rescue and rehabilitation of more animal like Master Jaffa via Paypal (


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Euthanasia, Humane Killing, and the Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver’s Park Board is looking to completely end the display of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium. That includes rescued and rehabilitated animals like harbour porpoise Daisy and false killer whale Chester.  Both were found beached and near death as infants, and were taken into care at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (which, incidentally, is the only one of its kind in Canada).  The government later deemed them non-releasable.

Spontaneous leaping and play, outside of a show.

Chester leaping before a show

While animal rights activists celebrate, scientists warn bans like this could do more harm than good.   Among other things, if the Vancouver Aquarium is no longer able to provide a permanent home for cetaceans who are deemed non-releasable, “…the DFO would have to look at alternatives such as euthanasia,” according to Dr John Ford of the Department of Fisheries.

But is euthanasia the correct term?  In a research environment (where much of my training lies), the distinction between Euthanasia and something referred to as Humane Killing (or Culling) is roughly as follows: Euthanasia is undertaken for the animal’s benefit, usually to end explicit suffering.  Humane Killing is undertaken for our benefit and convenience, such as when an animal is no longer needed for breeding.  Both are conducted as fast and painlessly as possible — it is merely the motive that differs.

Helen dolphin

Helen was found entangled in a fishing net off the coast of Japan, and was deemed non-releasable following a lengthy rehabilitation. Her pectoral fins had to be partially amputated.

But who benefits from stripping current animals of their home and leaving future ones to die? Politicians. In this case, the Vancouver Park Board.

As election time approached in 2014, Vision Vancouver-run Park Board Commissioner Constance Barnes infamously compared cetacean captivity to slavery before banning breeding.  Vision Vancouver lost the Park Board that election, and the Aquarium-supporting NPA immediately reversed Vision’s rulings, stating “I think it’s an emotional issue, and I think we recognize that the aquarium provides a lot of good in terms of research, conservation and education programs and we want to see that work continue.”  But election time is coming up again, and Commissioner Stuart Mackinnin used renewed outrage following the deaths of belugas Qila and Aurora to do a fast 180 and one-up scrapping the breeding program by moving to ban cetaceans entirely.  He even suggested he doesn’t care where the animals go so long as they’re off Park Board-controlled lands. Out of sight, out of mind…and into office.

FNF swing sets

One has to wonder…

Activists claim the animals are suffering in captivity, but science says otherwise.  And there are tangible benefits to having cetaceans live in facilities such as the Vancouver Aquarium that directly benefit their wild counterparts.  Helen, for example, participates in research studies that could help prevent the approximately 1000 marine mammals from becoming entangled in fishing nets as bycatch every day.  Meanwhile, Daisy is helping save the critically endangered Vaquita. Not to mention, animals are given a chance at life who otherwise wouldn’t have one.  And if all cetaceans are “euthanised” on the spot to “save” the few who can’t be, success stories like Levi’s will be a thing of the past.  (see: This Dolphin Didn’t Have To Die)

The Vancouver Aquarium is asking people to send letters of support for the work they do.  And voice that support for them on social media, perhaps highlighting how they have inspired you.

To the politicians, this isn’t about the animals’ welfare.  It’s about notoriety and votes.  Don’t let them meddle in the lives of these animals purely for their own gain.  The future of cetacean conservation and rescue in Canada could depend on it.

Remembering Qila and Aurora Through Those They Inspired
Rest In Peace Jack, and May Your Legacy Live On

FNF jack and child

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Welcome to Flippers and Feathers!

In a sentence, this blog will feature zoological facilities, nature, and the raging debates in-between.

In a little more detail, it will:
– discuss the issues surrounding captivity
– provide detailed reviews of zoological facilities around the world that I have personally visited and viewed with an open yet critical mind, as there is so much often-outdated misinformation floating around
– review nature tours (who are they aimed at?  Is it worth the money?)
– share news about endangered species
– …and pass on anything else that may be relevant or simply interesting.  That may include funny cat videos, because…well, funny cat videos.


Who am I?  I am a nature photographer whose lifelong interest in conservation was greatly enhanced through visits to the Calgary Zoo and the Vancouver Aquarium as a child, where I was able to connect with animals in a more personal and meaningful way.  Although I was unable to finish my original studies in Conservation Enforcement, I am looking to go back to school for Animal Technology and zookeeping courses.  I have hands-on experience volunteering as an educator and wildlife rescuer, and gobble up information left, right, and centre!

So welcome, and stay tuned for more!!!