Charlotte Zappala was walking her Australian shepherd, Roxie, one morning when a coyote enticed the dog to come play. Roxie, who was off-leash, ran off, right into an ambush. Lucky for her, she escaped only with bites around the eye and on her paw.
Coyotes are no longer a symbol of rural living. They live in America’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, where they make a fine living off garbage, pet food left outdoors, rodents and, yes, dogs and cats.
Coyote attacks on pets, like the one Zappala experienced, usually occur during the wild dogs’ courting, mating and pupping season: late fall, winter and early spring. Mating season begins as early as November, with pups on the ground typically between April and June. Often, an individual’s or community’s first response to the presence of coyotes is to want to trap and relocate or kill them.
While that might be satisfying in the short term to people who fear the animals, it’s not a viable or desirable solution, says coyote biologist Jacqueline Frair, Ph.D., of State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. Coyotes have a suite of biological mechanisms that kick in to rapidly grow their populations when they are under threat from hunting or other reduction efforts.
“Studies have shown that when coyote numbers are reduced, a higher proportion of females become pregnant, litter sizes become larger and the offspring of those litters have higher survival rates,” Frair says.
What should you do if you are walking your dog and encounter a coyote?
A good offense is the best defense, as the saying goes. If you live in an area where you know there are coyotes, stay alert when walking your dog on- or off-leash. Carry a walking stick, mace or bear spray that you can use to ward off a coyote that seems menacing. If you use mace or bear spray, be aware of the wind’s direction so you don’t suffer blowback.
If you don’t have any of those items with you, throw rocks or yell at the coyote, and wave your arms or a hat at it. Most coyotes are shy and fearful and will run at any sign of aggression from you. Stand your ground. Running away will only incite the coyote to chase you and your dog, which is not the reaction you want. Even if you and your dog don’t mean any harm, a coyote will be extra-protective if you and your dog unknowingly come near a den with pups.
Be watchful during pupping season. Other strategies to keep coyotes at bay and pets from becoming prey:
▪ Secure garbage cans so that coyotes can’t knock them over or knock the lid off.
▪ Feed pets indoors or take up food as soon as the animal is finished eating outdoors.
▪ Empty outdoor water dishes in the evening.
▪ Never offer food to coyotes.
▪ Cover or remove other sources of food that could attract coyotes, such as compost heaps, fallen fruit and birdseed spilled from feeders.
▪ Install motion-sensitive lighting to startle coyotes that enter the yard.
▪ Put up a solid, well-maintained fence at least 6 feet tall. A high fence with a roll bar on top is even better.
▪ Even in a fenced yard, accompany small or medium-size dogs outdoors if it’s very early in the morning or after dark.
▪ Trim shrubbery so it offers little cover.
▪ If you see a coyote lurking near your yard, shoo it away. “Coyotes simply shouldn’t learn to get comfortable around us,” Frair says.
The world’s oldest known cat, Tiffany Two, turned 27 on March 13. The San Diego kitty loves to be petted and still has good hearing and vision, although she does suffer from one old-age complaint: high blood pressure. She’s also capable of going up and down the stairs in the home of owner Sharon Voorhees, who says: “She’s not afraid of anything or anyone. She walks right past the dogs; she’s very feisty.” Voorhees feeds her orange and black tortoiseshell cat a blend of wet and dry food and lets her go outside when she wants.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.