Preventing Coyote Conflicts
Coyotes are cautious animals that are common throughout Cuyahoga County and all of Ohio. Coyotes have coexisted amongst us in Lakewood for years, rarely being noticed. Today, there are at least three alpha pairs, and their groups, living in Lakewood. An alpha pair lives in the Madison Park vicinity, another pair lives in the South West Corner, and the third pair in the Lakewood Park vicinity (see map.) Coyotes are located in dense urban populations all across the United States including Chicago, Los Angeles and even New York City.
Recently, many residents have reported seeing coyotes near Lakewood Park. In February, a West Highland White Terrier named Brody, living near Lakewood Park was chased and bitten while outside at 6:45 am, in a fenced yard. Thankfully, owners Barbara and Mark Mehle did exactly what they were supposed to do. They ran off the coyote by yelling and waving their arms above their heads.
Three other small-dog attacks have occurred in this area. These attacks started in late January. The dogs were all small breed dogs; each survived with bite injuries.
These recent encounters are the exception, not the rule from Lakewood’s experience.
Merely seeing a coyote is normally not a cause for concern. During the winter months, there may be an uptick in sightings due to an increase in coyote activity; January through March is mating season.
And although terrifying for the Mehles, the pursuit of their small dog is natural coyote behavior. Attacks on humans are extremely rare. Coyotes instinctively avoid people and are adept at avoiding human contact. According to Lakewood’s Animal Shelter Supervisor, Elaine Hearn, there has never been a coyote attack on a human in our area.
Although these recent encounters are the exception, not the rule from Lakewood’s experience, everyone should be informed about how to protect their pets and how to behave should one encounter a coyote.
First, it may be helpful to discuss some basic facts about coyotes.
Basic Coyote Facts
Coyotes are particularly skilled at living in proximity to people. Coyotes residing in urban environments are typically nocturnal, unlike their counterparts in natural surroundings. This is most likely behavior adapted to avoid human contact. According to the Urban Coyote Research Program, a research project dedicated to the study of coyotes in the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Illinois, coyotes in urban environments switch their activity to be more active at night when human activity is minimal. They can be most active at dawn and dusk.
Urban areas provide a bounty of natural food sources for coyotes, who primarily hunt small mammals such as mice, rats, and rabbits. They will also eat fruit and berries.
Coyotes may prey on small unattended domestic pets, such as cats and small dogs, if given the opportunity. They occasionally scavenge unsecured garbage, pet food and compost. It is important to note this is not aberrent behavior, but a normal behavior for these animals.
It can be prevented by reducing food sources, not feeding the coyotes directly so the animals don’t lose their natural fear of humans, and taking essential measures to protect your pets.
People and wildlife can coexist peacefully, especially when the population is knowledgeable about how to help avoid conflicts.
Remove Food Attractants
Incidents can occur with coyotes who have grown accustomed to people due to being fed by humans (deliberately or not). Never intentionally feed a coyote. Many people unintentionally feed coyotes by leaving pet food or garbage out at night or having large bird feeders. Coyotes are usually not interested in the bird food, but bird feeders often attract rodents, especially squirrels, which then attract coyotes.
People should avoid feeding their pets outside. The lure of this food also can attract coyotes and other unwelcome wildlife into your yard. If you must feed outside, remove the food bowl as soon as your pet has finished their meal.
If you compost, do not compost meat, dairy or fish scraps and use an enclosed bin. Clean up fallen fruit around trees and around your outdoor grill area after each use. Keep your garbage lids closed and assure they are fitting tightly. Periodically clean cans to reduce residual odors.
How to Protect Your Pets
Cats and small dogs especially are vulnerable to coyote confrontations. Keep your cats indoors. Pets should never be left outside unattended and dogs should always be kept on a leash (six-foot long or shorter), particularly in public areas. Since the coyotes are active dusk through dawn, leaving your small dog out unattended, particularly in the Lakewood Park area at these times is not advised, even in a fenced in area. According to the Humane Society of the United States, in order to be “coyote-proof,” a fence would have to be at least eight feet tall and made of a material that coyotes cannot climb.
What do I do if I encounter a Coyote?
Conflicts can occur with coyotes who are protecting their mate during breeding season (January - March) or their pups and den during pup season (April – August). Hazing is the term used for methods to drive off a coyote from an area or discourage undesired behavior. Hazing helps maintain a coyote’s natural fear of humans. The simplest method of hazing is being large and loud. Wave your arms above your head and yell “GO AWAY, COYOTE” in a low, deep voice. If you have on a coat, you could open your coat to make yourself appear larger. Making noise in any way possible is the best way to induce the coyote to run away. You could yell, use whistles, bells, air horns, or whatever is your noisemaker of choice. Squirt water guns with vinegar water, or throw tennis balls, sticks or other small objects toward (not at) the coyote to dissuade the animal. If you are in your yard, use your garden hose to spray the animal. Banging pots and pans can be helpful.
While walking your dog, especially during the dusk to dawn time-frame, there are several tools you could carry with you that can be used to deter coyotes: squirt guns, whistles, soda cans filled with coins to shake, or tennis balls to throw. Never run from a coyote. Running may induce a predator response and tempt the coyote to follow you and your pet. Remember to become large and loud and yell, “GO AWAY, COYOTE.”
If you or your pet has an encounter with a coyote, please report it to Lakewood Animal Control at 216-529-5020. An encounter would be anything more than a sighting or visual observation.
The Mayor and other city officials have met to determine the best course of action for intervention. They are working with animal control officers to implement an immediate response to best mitigate the problem as well as to develop a long-term coyote management and coexistence plan.
Please share this information with your neighbors and friends. If you are interested in learning more, there is a link to more coyote-related information on the animal control page of the city’s website. Please visit http://www.onelakewood.com/community-vision/safety/#animal-control
Kara A. Vlach Lasher is on the Lakewood Animal Safety and Welfare Advisory Board.
Kara A. Vlach Lasher
Lakewood Animal Safety and Welfare Advisory Board