You may or may not have recently heard on the news or radio about a woman walking her two dogs at dusk in Chicago when she and her dogs were approached by three coyotes. Typically, coyotes are shy creatures, but are learning to coexist within more urban habitats and are becoming less timid. According to all the new stories, one of the coyotes approached her dog within a foot or two and was nipping at it. Luckily, the woman found a break in traffic and was able to cross the street with her dogs and be safe. But it was obviously a frightening experience for her and certainly for her dogs which were considered to be potential prey by this bold coyote.
My Tibetan Terriers have been barking up a storm lately at night, sometimes for as long as 2 hours. They are barking at windows that face our unfenced back yard in northern Cook County, and I am now wondering if there are coyotes in our neighborhood, too, as all other reasons for the non-stop barking have been ruled out by me. TTs (as they are referred to by those of us who are owned by them) are considered to be "sentinel" dogs of Tibet, bred to warn the monks of approaching danger. They warn by barking ... loudly.
So, going into research mode, I searched the web to see what information I could learn about protecting our animals from coyotes both in urban and suburban areas. Of interest is the fact that this is a country-wide issue and my search yielded many informative blogs (Yahoo Answers and "411-for-the-dogs.com," to name a few) and a link to information provided by our own Lake County Forest Preserve, which has the wonderful dogs parks mentioned in a prior post. Coyotes are found throughout the continental United States and North America (see map below).
- Source: Wikipedia.org
This is what I learned:
Coyotes are typically not dangerous to people, but should not be approached nor should your dog be allowed to approach one. If a coyote becomes aggressive and does not react fearfully to your presence, it is a sign that it has lost its fear of people and may need to be trapped and killed. Coyotes hunt alone or in pairs and frequently feed on deer fawns as a food source as well as on feral cats. They also are known to be scavengers, feeding from messy garbage cans or garbage in plastic bags left out the night before garbage pick-up. According to the Lake County Forest Preserves information, coyotes cannot tell the difference between their natural prey and pets, and more often view pets as competition rather than prey. A coyote's typical prey is a small mammal.
The Lake County 'fact sheet' states that "the majority of coyotes in our region live as lone animals but some live in family groups ... that work together to bring food back to a nursing mother and to protect their territory but do not hunt in packs as do wolves." As for preventing unwanted contact with coyotes and how to protect your pets, they suggest the following:
- Avoiding contact with coyotes by keeping dogs on leash and staying on designated trails;
- Because coyotes are everywhere in our area, dogs need to be closely supervised, even in our back yards or on the street (I've heard from friends that coyotes will perform an puppy-like play-bows, enticing dogs to come closer to them);
- Coyotes are not afraid of dogs but are afraid of humans; if a coyote approaches your dog, you need to scare it away;
Suggestions for protecting your pets on your home property include:
- Constructing a fence around your property that is at least six feet tall;
- Keeping the area around your home free of food sources;
- Keeping your dog inside or in a secure kennel outside regardless of time of day;
- Consider obtaining better lighting around your house for nighttime use;
Suggestions for protecting your pet on a walk:
- Always use a leash;
- Carry a stick and noise-maker (can even be an aluminum 'shaker' can or a horn);
- If possible, walk in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic;
- Keep your dog as close to you as possible and head towards an active area;
Suggestions for an encounter with a coyote when walking your dog include:
- Making eye contact;
- Yelling or making loud noises;
- Throwing things at it;
- Making yourself appear as large and menacing as possible;
- Never turn your back on a coyote;
- Using mace or pepper spray (suggested by many FB friends, but this can backfire by people accidentally spraying themselves with it rather than the predator);
It is amazing to me that coyotes have become so fearless and acclimated to civilization that they can now be a menace to our pets, even on our urban downtown streets in Chicago. The surprise is not that they are there; rather the surprise is the ease with which they may approach people. The woman who had that unfortunate encounter with the three coyotes used her brains to save her dogs from harm. And that's what loving our pets is all about. I sincerely hope that you never encounter a coyote on a walk with your dog, but also hope that some of these suggestions will be of help if you do.
An addendum that was provided to me by Robert Pierce about the Cook County, IL, Coyote Project, established in 2000 to perform an ecological observational tracking study of coyotes in Cook County and their (the coyotes) impact on the urban area of Chicago. It is a fascinating study of over 10 years duration. There is a section on management which I encourage everyone to read as well as information about the signature coyote of the project, "Big Mama."