This tale of the stray Burleson prairie dogs has a happy ending.
A small colony of the critters was living in a vacant field on a proposed natural gas drilling site near the city golf course and an area targeted for economic development known as Old Town.
How they got there is a mystery, since they are not native to North Central Texas.
Perhaps a former property owner brought the squirrellike rodents to the 45-acre field. Maybe they were someone's escaped pets.
However they got there, they coexisted with their neighbors for years until the city wanted to develop the area and Chesapeake Energy wanted to drill six wells.
But instead of exterminating the 16 prairie dogs that called the field home -- using poison, for example -- Chesapeake thought of a better plan and decided to hire a wildlife consultant to help them relocate the colony back to their natural habitat in West Texas.
"Although these prairie dogs might not have been hampered by our activities, development is going to take place and we thought they would be better off in a different place," said Justin Bond, a project manager for Chesapeake.
The Burleson colony can definitely count itself lucky.
Across the Great Plains, prairie dogs that are in the way of development or ranching have been exterminated or died off as the grasses and other vegetation they need to survive has disappeared.
Once there were hundreds of millions of black-tailed prairie dogs, maybe even more than a billion, according to the website for Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group founded in 1947 in an effort to save imperiled wildlife.
But now, due to a variety of reasons, the group says their numbers have dwindled by over 95 percent, leaving a population of up to 20 million.
The animals don't have a good reputation among ranchers and farmers, as they eat vegetation near their burrows, damaging crops.
Ranchers have also said that their horses and cattle have been injured when one of their legs lands in a hole.
Mark Brown, a Lubbock County extension agent, said prairie dogs also are hard on the cotton crops prevalent in the area. The rodents can damage young cotton seedlings that are planted in the spring.
"When prairie dogs overpopulate, they can cause damage to the land," Brown said.
Still, knowing all that, Chesapeake looked for another alternative than just exterminating the prairie dogs.
"We decided to bring in a wildlife consultant," Bond said.
A 'keystone species'
That's when Lynda Watson, known as the "Prairie Dog Lady," got involved.
Watson, who lives near Lubbock, has relocated prairie dogs for 30 years and says she relocates about 4,000 animals a year.
A dedicated defender of prairie dogs, Watson and others know that prairie dogs are a "keystone species," meaning that they often share their burrows with the burrowing owls and mountain plovers. They are also an important source of prey for black-footed ferrets, the swift fox and the golden eagle.
She also scoffed at the idea that prairie dogs are a danger to livestock and the land.
Watson said animals weighing 1,000 pounds graze far more than those weighing two pounds. And as far as their larger, four-legged friends are concerned?
"Cattle have four legs. If one leg falls in a hole, nothing much happens," Watson said. "If anything, the prairie dogs are victims. I've moved them from places they shouldn't be."
Watson devised a plan to relocate the colony. She said catching and relocating the prairie dogs is a delicate process, and the animals had to be moved while the weather was still warm so that they could get used to their new surroundings and burrows before winter set in.
In November, the Burleson colony was moved to an undisclosed location north of Lubbock, which already has a large prairie dog population, though Watson said it took some effort to find a place for them because of the drought.
Watson said it was encouraging to see Chesapeake taking ecological responsibility for the animals.
"Everyone is really down on these oil companies; they can just as easily be the bad guys," Watson said.