In Mattapoisett, a small dog was recently attacked by a fisher. While this might cause alarm among pet owners of the SouthCoast, we thought we should give you some facts about fishers, how dangerous they are, and how concerned you need to be about them showing up in your backyard.

First thing’s first: it’s a fisher, not a fisher cat.

A fisher is not a feline in any way. It’s a weasel. Calling it a “fisher cat” is a misnomer. And, get this – it doesn’t even eat fish.

Instead, according to LiveScience.com, the name comes from the French word fiche, meaning the European polecat – also not a cat, but a form of weasel – and that it is “possible that early European settlers misidentified the fishers of North America as polecats.”

We’re not even going to get into the etymology of why a European weasel was called a “polecat,” but let’s just say a lot of scholars suspect it was directly related to the animal’s putrid smell. Here's what a polecat looks like:

Getty Images/iStockphoto

As for fishers, they’re also known for secreting an odor to attract mates, but since they avoid humans as much as possible, it’s far more likely you’ll hear one than smell one. Here’s what they sound like:

Fun fact: fishers are one of the only animals that can successfully hunt and eat porcupines. So they've got that going for them.

Now that you know what a fisher is, the next question is, are they a big concern on the SouthCoast? And what can you do about them?

“I always tell people that before they let their dogs outside at night to always check the yard, even if it is fenced in,” said Fairhaven Animal Control Officer Terry Cripps. “It is also a good idea to have adequate lighting in our yards, especially when we have pets that we let out. It is also a good practice to be outside with our furry children while they are outside.”

Cripps said fishers have not been an issue in Fairhaven, but that there is a fisher population in the town.

“They are very shy creatures and will avoid contact with us at all costs,” Cripps said.

What fishers are in the area are generally confined to the more residential areas, closer to the woods where they prefer to hunt. New Bedford Animal Control Officer Manny Maciel said they don’t seem to be much of a problem in the city.

“We have picked up, in the summertime, one or two dead ones around the Hathaway Road golf course area, but nothing else. It’s been a while,” he said.

The sad part of the story is that fishers are just another animal that humans have driven out of the forest as we have cleared away more and more woodlands. They'd prefer to have nothing to do with humans, but will attack if cornered, using their sharp, retractable claws. Fishers once were hunted for their pelts, and nearly became extinct in this area.

There is no reason to fear a fisher, but we and especially our pets certainly need to be cautious of them, just as we are with other wildlife found on the SouthCoast.

“There are many predators that live amongst us every day, but we can coexist with each other if we just use precautions," Cripps said.

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