December 01, 2002
The Prairie Dog Lady

I've written about Lubbock and its prairie dog issues before (here, here, and here). The Texas Magazine in Sunday's Chron gives a nice profile of Lynda Watson, the "Prairie Dog Lady", considered the best in the world at catching the little rodents barehanded.

Why is that important? Well, the original way of catching prairie dogs was via a vacuum cleaner. That had its problems:

Prairie dogs are caught in two ways. The first and most efficient is by literally vacuuming them out of their holes. An adult prairie dog can weigh 2 to 5 pounds and stands 12 inches to 14 inches upright (a favorite position). His circumference is only a few inches, however, and he can easily fit through a 6-inch-diameter hose. Powerful vacuums pulled by tractors can suck up hundreds of prairie dogs in several hours, drawing them rapidly into large, mobile tanks.

Animal-rights activists, however, say many prairie dogs are killed in the process, beaten to death against the tank walls or smothered. Dealers say the pups that live suffer lung damage from the mass of dust that accompanies them in the tank and die at an early age.

Watson's method is more humane, more tedious and more hazardous for the trapper. It requires two people: Watson's eyesight prevents her from operating anything larger than a four-wheeler, so she rides in the passenger seat while someone drives a pickup with a water tank on a trailer behind.

Once Watson spots a family she watches to mark the hole they run to. The driver then pulls slowly over the burrow and stops just as the tank passes the opening.

Watson jumps from the truck before it stops ("I can't count my sprained ankles") and moves quickly and quietly to the opening. Holding a hose, she aims a slow stream of water down the hole. When she sees or hears the first evidence of a prairie dog emerging, she thrusts her arm into the opening, down the blind chasm, and grabs him.

With good luck she may retrieve several adults and a half-dozen pups, catching as many as 150 on a good day. On a bad one she may be bitten by the first one or encounter one of the black widows that like to live just below the rim of prairie-dog holes.

"I've been bitten by spiders a couple of times," she says. "Obviously, it didn't kill me, but it forms a hole, and the flesh just rots out of it."

Usually, however, Watson pulls a series of wet, squirming rodents from their lair and tosses them with practiced ease into a trash can. The animals are then sprayed for fleas and placed in cages to be taken to Watson's home. The younger animals can be domesticated and sold. The adults are relocated.

Being caught by the great Lynda Watson confers some advantages to a prairie dog:

Adults caught in the wild remain feral animals. Only pups are suitable for domestication, and only those born in captivity or caught by hand can be guaranteed to be healthy. As a result, a sort of cult grew up around Watson in Japan, where pet prairie dogs have become a fad among children.

Brokers estimate that around 12,000 prairie-dog pups are exported from the United States yearly, and a large percentage of those go to Japan.

"Japan is a very small country with very small houses and many apartments," says Kaye Takahashi, owner of Cynomys, a prairie-dog retail outlet in Tokyo. "Many apartment owners do not allow big pets, dogs, cats.

"Prairie dogs are not too loud and don't smell too bad, so they are very popular. Prairie dogs from Lynda Watson are most popular. We sell them with a certificate (from Watson), and we put in a microchip in the neck so the prairie dog can always be identified."

In Tokyo, where inflated prices for almost everything are the norm, an albino prairie dog from Watson is sure to bring $3,000. A palomino sells for $1,000, and the average brown and gray sells for $300.

Watson herself doesn't see much of that money, but she doesn't mind. She's doing what she wants to do.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 01, 2002 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

Hello, my name is marc mcguire, I currently fighting the city of garland texas to keep my domesticated prairie dog. if there is any assistance that you can offer please notify me at Thank you

Posted by: marc mcguire on July 21, 2003 7:24 PM

Hello, my name is marc mcguire, I currently fighting the city of garland texas to keep my domesticated prairie dog. if there is any assistance that you can offer please notify me at Thank you

Posted by: marc mcguire on July 21, 2003 7:24 PM

Hello, my name is Dallas, and I am one of Lynda's pups. I live with my brother and sister in a huge house and get lots of love. My parents say I am an incredible boy, and I make them smile every day. They love when I yahoo - and they especially love it when my brother, sister and I clean our cage. We kick hay out all over the floor. Hope you can help make people see what incredible little critters we are.

Posted by: Dallas on January 7, 2004 1:13 PM

I have just read the article about Lynda Watson, the prairie dog lady. If you could please contact me, or Lynda herself and get an update on the life of a prairie dog. They have been wrongfully accused of starting the monkey pox scare in the States. Since the scare, the sale, trade, and transfer of prairie dogs has been illeagle. Their have been no further outbreaks of monkey pox since July 2003 and they are trying to make this interim ban permanent. We have until a January 20th 2004 vote to raise the conscience of the American public and get this ban lifted. The prairie dogs were not responsible for bringing the disease to the States and their are several hundred prairie dog owners who truly love and want only the best for their pd's. Our right to own them are being taken away and we need all of the voices that we can raise to make it stop.

Posted by: Chris on January 7, 2004 1:55 PM

Everyone, PLEASE contact FDA and let them know that there are lots of people that would be greatly affected by banning prairie dogs as pets.
The public only has till Jan.20,2004 to be heard.
For more info contact me, Adam or Lynda herself.

Posted by: Debbie on January 8, 2004 1:21 AM

My family farm has been overrun by prairie dogs and I mean by many thousands. And I am wondering about these vacuum cleaners that can be used. I believe that I can set one up to be alot more humane about the process, where there is hardly any dust and a heavily padded and foamed walls in the tank. But I do not know where I can find one that will work. So any info would be wonderful. Thanks!

Posted by: Dale Hedstrom on September 12, 2005 11:47 AM