Last week, CTV News reported that Collingwood, Ont. resident Jeff Brown had launched a class action lawsuit against the town of Collingwood because of coyotes. The class action claims that there have been multiple pets attacked by coyotes over the last year, and Brown says the town isn’t doing enough to stop it.
CTV News reports that Brown is seeking $500,000 in punitive damages, and an order to remove the coyotes.
But there’s little explanation as to why coyotes have suddenly converged on Collingwood and are attacking pets. “The biggest reason why coyotes end up anywhere is probably food related,” says Stanley Gehrt, a professor and extension specialist at Ohio State University who studies coyotes in urban environments. “If there’s food available for them or other kinds of resources, then that’s an attractant, and that’ll draw them in.”
When it comes to pets, coyotes, on rare occasion, do eat cats, but the only reason they would attack a dog would be out of competition, Gehrt says. “Even the cats don’t make up much of their diet,” he says, “because there’s not enough cats there. If that was the primary food source, they would decimate the cat population and then they’d have to move on.”
Instead, coyotes primarily eat rabbits and rodents, like squirrels, which are often found in suburban areas where there are few predators. In order to avoid drawing a coyote onto your property, Gehrt suggests not leaving out food for other animals, like bird feeders where much of the feed ends up on the ground. Squirrels tend to eat bird feed, and “if you have a bunch of squirrels coming into a feeding area, that’s an attractant for coyotes. Coyotes are not interested in the bird food. They’re interested in the rodents,” Gehrt says.
Another reason coyotes are drawn into urban areas is that they risk being hunted and trapped in rural environments. “The urban environment actually represents a refuge for them,” Gehrt says. Coyotes are also very adaptive and excellent at navigating developed areas, exploiting nooks and crannies in the urban landscape.
As an example, Gehrt describes a pair of coyotes he and his team were tracking in Chicago. The pair ended up creating a den on the fourth floor of a parking garage across the street from Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play. “This time of year, the stadium is not in use and so the parking garage didn’t receive a lot of use,” he says. “They basically closed off the upper level, so just the lower levels of the garage were being used by people for parking. The coyotes actually raised a litter on the top level of the parking garage.”
But coyotes are extremely protective of their litter—a possible explanation for why they’ve been attacking pets in Collingwood. Gehrt says that over a four-week period after the litter was born, the male coyote attacked a dog every night as the dog and its owner walked along the Chicago Lakefront Trail, skirting the parking garage. “The coyote wasn’t interested in people. He was just interested in the dogs, and that was because he was extremely defensive for the litter.”
If you come face-to-face with a coyote, Gehrt says the best thing to do is to make yourself dominate towards the animal. You can achieve this by yelling at the coyote, waving your arms, and making yourself look as big as possible. If you’re walking a small dog, pick it up and carry it. If you’re walking a larger dog, make sure to keep it on leash. Then back away slowly from the animal. “Don’t turn your back to a coyote.”
Gehrt says that people are often afraid of coyotes and tend to run away. But this isn’t always the right reaction. “I had a woman the other day tell me she can’t use her yard anymore because occasionally there’s a coyote that will come out, and she has to stay inside and can’t let her dog out,” he says. “Well, then the coyotes learned that it can make you go away by coming into your yard.”
Coyotes are observant creatures, and Gehrt says they learn from watching humans, even when we don’t know they’re there. If you let them scare you out of your yard, then they will become dominate. Instead, you need to come outside when you see a coyote and make lots of noise or throw something at them to make them uncomfortable. And if you’re not at home, motion active lights, or playing a talk radio station can also act as deterrents. You just need to turn “it on at different times so it’s not too repetitive. And you can put it on really low. It doesn’t have to be loud. They just need to hear human voices,” Gehrt says.
If, however, a coyote is not scared off when you yell or step towards it, and instead it barks or growls at you, then you should call your local animal control. “They need to report that because that’s an animal that may have lost its fear of people, and the best solution in those situations is to remove them.”