By Kathy Hanks
The Hutchinson News
Off in the distance, a black-tailed prairie dog stood on watch duty as a group huddled around a burrow being filled with soapy water.
Then the varmint let out a chirp, no doubt warning its comrades to burrow deeper into the ground.
By the end of the day, about 40 prairie dogs would hopefully learn that surrender was the best option. Life would only get better. But they would put up a resistance to the group that included Jeff Wells with Advance Termite & Pest Control, members of Audubon of Kansas and Jay Mitzner’s Bobcat Service, which provided the thousands of gallons of water to flush them out of the prairie dog colony.
The plan was to take the captives peacefully and relocate the prairie dogs to a 42,000-acre ranch in the Red Hills of BarberCounty. That’s where they would begin a new life in an existing prairie dog colony.
“They are going to have a great life,” said Cheryl L. Mitchell, controller for Henzlik Real Estate Companies. She spent the past two months researching and developing a plan to relocate the prairie dog town so that dirt work could begin and properties could be developed north of 17th Avenue and K-61, east of the Olive Garden restaurant. Plans are for a Buffalo Wild Wings and Rib Crib to open in 2015.
Instead of running the prairie dogs off or killing them, Mitchell organized Tuesday’s roundup. She worked closely with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism as well as Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, to ensure the best way to safely remove an estimated 40 prairie dogs.
Mitchell was determined the relocation would be successful. That’s why it was imperative, she said, that the prairie dogs be released into existing colonies.
With almost as many bottles of Dawn dishwashing detergent as there were prairie dogs and 2,000 gallons of water at a time, they began filling the prairie dog holes that led to an underground world. As the morning warmed up, a group of prairie dogs was sunning above ground, keeping their eye on the humans.
“The first one was easy to catch,” Mitchell said as the soaking-wet and sudsy rascal flew out of the hole and was grabbed by a gloved Wells. Standing at attention were two volunteers with large nets.
Klataske explained that the soapy water flushed down into the burrow would get into all the crevices, forcing the prairie dogs to come to the surface. Once each prairie dog was captured, Wells wiped the soap off the animal and out of its eyes and placed it inside a Stutzman Refuse trash container with straw bedding.
As they began capturing more prairie dogs, the animals would burrow together in the trash barrel. Mitchell said the dark trash bin was more humane for the prairie dogs than putting them inside a cage.
‘Here’s some fresh poop,” said Wells. “A sign of life.”
Mitchell took the long hose and shoved it down the hole. Within minutes, a soaked and slippery varmint shot up out of the hole and Wells grabbed it in his gloved hands.
It continued like this until they hit what Klataske said was the prairie dogs’ “convention center.” That’s when the varmints began swimming up to the surface.
“Operation Sudsy Water” was in full swing.The smell of dish soap mingled with the smell of the worst wet dog imaginable as each critter was captured.
Meanwhile, Wells was on the ground with his arm all the way up to his shoulder in one of the burrows. He looked like an arm wrestler, red-faced and determined to win. He came up with two more prairie dogs. The trash containers were filling. Inside of them, the prairie dogs were drying off, their hair fluffy and clean. They would nest deeper into the straw.
Klataske noted that the colony, which was growing smaller as the day progressed, had been a perfect environment for prairie dogs.
“There are not many predators because the grass is mowed,” said Klataske. But development was inevitable. And the prairie dogs were going to a good home.
The real estate deal would close next week, Mitchell said, and they would begin moving dirt.
She was thrilled with the outcome of the relocation project. She even netted one of the 40 prairie dogs that were captured.
“We have far exceeded any expectations,” Mitchell said.