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What's that giant sucking sound on prairie?

hole December 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EST

From Reporter Jack Hamman

CORTEZ, Colorado (CNN) -- Imagine you are a prairie dog and your landlord wants to evict you.

One minute you're burrowed into your home sweet hole; the next minute you're hurtling through a vacuum hose and landing inside a padded yellow truck.

Prairie dog movies

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You can't read the side of the truck, but it says, "Dog-Gone: Prairie Dog Control" and below that, in green letters, "Environmentally Safe."


Meet Dave Honaker and Gay Balfour, who are ridding fields and prairies of prairie dogs, hole by hole, with the help of a revamped sewer truck. Not for them the aggressive techniques of rifles, poison or flooding.

"We kind of like these guys ... We're animal lovers," Dave explains.

It's a matter of responsible ecology, Gay says.

"We thought the coyotes all had to go, and then the foxes all had to go, then all the hawks and eagles had to go. Here I'm talking back in the '50s and '60s," Gay says. "And now, since they're not so prevalent to take care of the rodents, now we think all the rodents have got to go."


Throughout the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, prairie dogs are welcome in fewer and fewer spaces, as people spread out.

On a good day, Dave and Gay can suck hundreds of the 3-pound rodents out of their burrows.

Gay and Dave try to find private landowners willing to give the dogs new homes in places far from cities or ranches. Many are sold as food for endangered eagles, hawks and ferrets.


"You can make a real nice pet out of them. It sounds crazy, but they tame right down," Gay says. But only a few states allow prairie dog ownership.

Animal rights groups have mixed feelings about the vacuum truck. They don't like the pet prairie dog idea, but they do appreciate Dave and Gay's affection for the rodents.

The truck stays busy spring and summer, but can only capture a few thousand prairie dogs in a given year. Countless other dogs are still in the way of ranchers, farmers and developers, and suffice to say, they don't all get a free ride on a yellow truck out of prairie dog town.

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