M-44s are spring-loaded devices that eject powdered sodium cyanide to kill the animal that pulls it. They were designed for the purpose of controlling canine predators such as coyotes. Unlike other control devices which require the animal to push (e.g. footholds), M-44s require the animal to bite and pull.
When the animal bites and pulls, the sodium cyanide is ejected into the animal’s mouth where it can be absorbed into its system usually resulting in death. It’s the biting and pulling requirement that helps to restrict the device to canines (e.g. coyotes and foxes). While other animals can bite and pull, they typically tend to paw at the device and not bite and pull.
Unfortunately, when uninformed people learn of this device they may recoil in horror.
Why would people want to be putting a deadly poison out on the landscape?
The answer is quite simple. Coyotes, as shepherds know, are significant threats to livestock, such as sheep. While footholds, shooting, and snares are important tools in controlling coyote predation, those methods are also time intensive. M-44s, in contrast are remarkably efficient. They are easy to set and only require checking once per week.
To be sure, M-44s are not a silver bullet, but they are a valuable tool.
It shouldn’t surprise readers to know that various so-called animal protectionists groups, such as Predator Defense and the Humane Society of the United States, oppose the use of the M-44.
Opponents of M-44s present many reasons for banning these devices but for this article I would like to focus on the claim that M-44s threaten dogs (Canis familiaris).
I completely agree.
M-44s are a significant threat to dogs because dogs, like coyotes and foxes, are canines. All canines are attracted to the same bait used in M-44s and it is no surprise that dogs that encounter them, will bite and pull them.
But as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “and now, for the rest of the story.”
If you look at the kill data for M-44s. You will see that M-44s have killed dogs. But the data doesn’t tell you if the dogs were owned or feral.
What isn’t explained is that M-44s may be used against feral dogs.
One of the responsibilities placed on USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services is the protection of threatened and endangered species. One way to protect animals is to control their predators, such as feral dogs. Pimentel et al (1999) states “In addition to the damages caused by dogs in Texas, and conservatively assuming $5 million for all damages for the other 49 states combined, total losses in livestock kills by dogs per year would be approximately $10 million per year.”
What about owned dogs?
Well, they threaten wildlife too. Young et al. (2011) summarize dog impacts on wildlife around the world. What is ironic is that so-called animal protectionist organizations don’t appear to be worried about the problem of free-range dogs here in the U.S.
Why aren’t they concerned about the threats that free-range and non-native predators can have on our vulnerable native species?
Don’t our native species deserve some respite from an introduced predator?
I suspect they are opposed to free-range dogs if you pressed them on the subject. But I wonder if their relative silence is due to their desire to exploit the affection that owners have for their pets to help their campaign to fight Wildlife Services.
Bottom line, when you read, in my opinion, the over-stated rhetoric of the animal protectionists crowd, just be sure to ask yourself what they aren’t telling you.