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'More Aggressive' Coyote Encounters on the Rise in Western Connecticut

A number of recent pet run-ins with so called "nuisance wildlife" in the area has residents on edge and, scientists say, follows a rising trend. (Reposted from an earlier article.)

If a coyote or a fox is frequenting your yard and threatening your pets these days, there's a good chance you can blame them for it.

Far from the popular notion that humans are encroaching on animals' natural habitats and forcing them into areas they wouldn't normally go, Department of Environmental Protection biologist Chris Vann says the reverse is true.

"Over the last 12 to 13 years, the trend is what I would primarily describe as coyotes moving into areas that have been developed for long periods of time," he said. "Coyotes are dispersing into these developed habitats. They're very adaptable. I don't blame the problem on us increasingly encroaching into coyote territory. It's actually the opposite."

Vann suggested that because of their adaptability, animals like foxes and coyotes will head wherever food sources exist. In areas like Fairfield County, filled with large rural residential properties with many acres of land, there is an abundance of habitat and food (including pets) to sustain them. So they are drawn to it.

"Those areas provide an abundance of habitat and wildlife," Vann says. "They have a lot of prey base (deer, turkey, rodents)...we're not in California yet...they're not living in downtown, very urban areas. But we do get coyotes that travel into these [suburban] areas and can exist in some very nontraditional habitats."

And Vann suggested that when that occurs, the animals can become aggressive. Evidence of that can be found in multiple incidents around western Connecticut recently. The town of Oxford released a statement this week "to make residents aware of reports of a number of coyotes in the Jensen Farm Road area, and at least one attack on a dog."

"That was the dog that was getting torn apart by two coyotes," Oxford Animal Control Officer Sandy Merry said of the case.

Merry said that despite that incident, her office has received no complaints before or since and that there is very little rhyme or reason as to how many run-ins residents may have with nuisance wildlife each year.

"I'm not telling you for the rest of the summer we're not going to [have incidents], but as of now nothing's even been spotted since," she said. "One year we had a couple months straight that we had complaints. Some years we don't get any. We don't really do anything on the town level to cull. But if we have the time, we'll go patrolling."

But Vann said otherwise. In fact, he said the rising number of nuisance wildlife encounters and attacks is a bit troubling.

"The trend [of coyote encounters and attacks on pets] over the last decade has been an increasing number of incidents and an increasing number of attacks," he said. "It certainly is a big concern. We are working as closely as we can with homeowners that are dealing with serious problems."

The DEP has issued larger numbers of special trapping permits to help keep nuisance wildlife populations in check. But the complaints keep increasing. In 2007, Vann said his office, the DEP's nuisance wildlife division tasked with processing such reports, fielded close to 300 coyote-related complaints.

"I just got off the phone with a woman whose dog was killed in Fairfield two days ago," Vann said on Friday. "Another man's dog was killed in Easton yesterday. So, the complaints are rolling in. Are the complaints more severe this year than in years past? There is a gradually increasing number of dog attacks, yes...we are seeing more and more aggressive activity."

In Newtown, officials have been seeing a surprising number of foxes, with as many as two to three calls and encounters a week coming in to animal control officer Carolee Mason. She said that is more than in any of the seven years she's held the post in town.

"Around now, the breeding season starts and they're having pups and they're very aggressive and acting like typical parents," Mason said. "They don't want anything happening to their cubs. They just want everybody to stay away. So, we have to be cautious and on guard all the time."

Mason said the burden really falls on residents to protect their pets and be vigilant about watching their children. She knows firsthand as she lives in the area on 54 acres of wilderness and goes outside "with a flashlight and a leash" when she lets her Jack Russel terrier out.

But she holds no ill will toward any of the nuisance wildlife. In fact, she actually respects the animals.

"Foxes are supposed to be great parents," she says. "Basically, they're just trying to survive and just want to raise their kits in peace. So if you see them outside, make a lot of noise so they run away.

Mason and Merry both said the time to absolutely get a wildlife official involved is when you suspect a sick animal. In those cases, animal control officers can intervene and trap the animal. It can then be diagnosed and sent to one of many animal rehabilitators in the area, or disposed of as necessary.

At the end of the day, residents the threats coyotes and other wild animals can pose as a part of life, because they most definitely are in the western part of the state.

"It's pretty ovious that most of our complaints come from southwestern Connecticut," Vann concluded. "There are a lot of coastal communities, a lot of land use trends in that area, zoning densities, that provide the animals really good habitats."

Information on living with coyotes and other nuisance wildlife, as well as contact information for the DEP, is available here.

rocketeer928 April 17, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Cat = Tasty morsel
Eileen April 17, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Good article, sensible. I think I've read it before. I have two cats that I acquired since moving here from Long Island. Obviously, no coyote threats there...lol. But I keep my cats inside not only because of coyotes, but hawks, etc. as well. I also had a fair sized dog (Lab/Shepherd mix) and he never had a problem. He passed this past January at 13 y/o and I notice now that he's gone the coyotes come a little closer to the house. But it doesn't bother me. It seems if I leave them alone, they don't bother me.
Jimmy Pursey April 17, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Rob a- Not a bright idea to use your real name for any purpose online. You are seldom required to, other than for personal business. For someone who claims to be against "surrendering your rights and freedoms" you seem ironically compliant about sharing personal information with complete strangers.
Jimmy Pursey April 17, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Mirror- I'd be less concerned about "animal nuts" than I would the "all animals wanna chew my kid's face off so I better shoot them nuts."
Jimmy Pursey April 17, 2012 at 04:00 PM
I saw a coyote this morning at Francis J. Clarke Circle.
Elyse April 17, 2012 at 04:03 PM
A fact sheet on the eastern coyote can be found here: http://www.ct.gov/dep/lib/dep/wildlife/pdf_files/outreach/fact_sheets/coyote.pdf - it answers lots of question. As for shooting them when they come in your yard, you open yourself to a host of problems (illegal discharge of a firearm, possibly shooting a neighbor's dog by mistake, or even shooting a person if your bullet misses its target). To protect your pets, simply be vigilante and don't let your cat roam (it will eat songbirds, otherwise) and don't put a small dog out with an invisible fence. The fence doesn't stop the coyote from noshing on Fido, or a redtail hawk flying off with your prized Chihuahua. Most lost dogs signs I see posted are for small dogs, and no doubt they've become a meal to a coyote or other predator. Keeping cats indoors also prevents a host of problems such as parasites, surgical bills when they run afoul a turkey (yup!), or get hit by a car. Leaving dogs outside all day, well, deer ticks (and the above). Indoor pets (cats) tend to live longer, better lives. As for coyote attacks on human, they're very rare. As for attacks on small children, I don't know, but if your child is that young/small, an adult should be supervising at all times anyway. I usually take a flashlight when I go out at night. I'm not so worried about coyotes, but more so in bumping into a raccoon or skunk, which pose a lot more danger to me in regards to rabies and being sprayed.
DAY April 17, 2012 at 05:37 PM
QWERTY - Thanks for the welcome to civilization. 1) Not everyone who shoots a coyote does so out of a need to affirm their masculinity. 2) Not everyone who defends their family does so out of a need to affirm masculinity. 3) If we arm the coyotes, so that they can shoot back, will you feel better?
The Mirror April 17, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Jimmy, I'm actually more concerned about the people that seem to believe that humans aren't a native species.
Rob Gianazza April 17, 2012 at 05:57 PM
@Jimmy, not really. I believe if you have something to say, you should own it and not hide behind a pseudo-name. I am surrendering nothing, it is my choice.
The Mirror April 17, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Eileen, you're absolutely right - children aren't on their "traditional" menu. But that hasn't stopped a dramtic rise in the numbers of coyote attacks on humans over the past several decades. These are easy to document by simply Googling it - but of course, that would take some semblance of effort on the part of those who wish to deny the truth. No one is claiming that coyotes are the most dangerous issue we face today. But to deny the reality that such attacks are increasing is intellectually lazy.
Jimmy Pursey April 17, 2012 at 06:09 PM
The Mirror- I hear ya', you mean the "Creationists"!
Jimmy Pursey April 17, 2012 at 06:19 PM
No, really Rob. It's incredibly easy for anyone to steal your identity online. Using a "log-in name" is not "hiding behind" anything. It's common, and it's common sense. Also, now that I see you work in a public capacity, Rob...broadcasting your "anti-government" views might not sit well with your employers.
Christine E. April 17, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Why won't you guys just admit that you place a higher value on the life of some animals, than you do on others? That's all it really comes down to. Day - What I find contradicting with your logic is this... you say you want your pets to be 'free as nature intended'. Did nature intend for them to be protected by man with guns?
The Mirror April 17, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Jimmy, that's interesting that you think that "Creationists" somehow deny the role of humans in the natural world. My experience is a little different. I'm not the least bit religious, but I've always found that it is those with a more liberal, non-religious bent that seem to blame every ill on the "evil ways" of humankind, as if we were an alien species. We're not. Fact - coyote attacks are rising all over the country. This is a direct result of these animals not being hunted. The balance is gone. Just like our current deer population in this region is many times higher than it was when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. But sure, it's always easier to childishly twist words (eg, "all animals wanna chew my kid's face off") then it is to put forth a logical and intelligent response to a well documented reality. So, sure - go with that.
DAY April 17, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Christine - am I not a creature of nature, too? Do I not have a right to protect my property from the encroachment of animals I consider dangerous, some that even carry rabies? If you were to venture into a coyote or wolf den where there were young pups, wouldn't those animals protect themselves? Are we as humans to blame for having opposable thumbs, for developing tools and weapons that enable us to protect ourselves? Do explain your logic, please. By the way, do you eat meat?
Rob Gianazza April 17, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Yes Christine, I do place a higher value on domesticated animals than I do wild ones. If a strange dog came into my yard and attacked my dog, I would treat it no differently than any other creature that attacked my family or property. As I stated earlier, from a legal standpoint, pets are considered property. Is your problem with protecting family and pets, or is it guns? Some people happen to hate all things related to guns. Would it be more humane for someone wrestle with a coyote, punch it and kick it to death? We're not talking about going out and attacking a coyote just because it trespassed. We're talking about defending our family and pets from an attacking wild animal. There is a significant difference.
Ashleigh April 17, 2012 at 07:27 PM
DAY - not really seeing the correlation... blowing an animal's head off because it walked on your grass vs an animal protecting its defenseless newborns from death? Doesn't really seem equal to me. If the animal is acting strangely or clearly has something wrong with it, then alright, self defense. If its taking the shortest path between point A and B and that happens to include your lawn, why should it die?
Rob Gianazza April 17, 2012 at 07:30 PM
@Jimmy, Steal my identity? Perhaps that's your excuse. I stand behind what I say and have no fear in associating my real name to it. And why are you attempting to paint my comments as anti-government? I support the U.S. Constitution. I don't now and never have worked for the government, I was elected three times to the Board of Education, a non-paying volunteer position. What's your point?
Jimmy Pursey April 17, 2012 at 07:40 PM
The Mirror- You're twisting my words, and seem to possess no sense of humor...be it self-effacing or otherwise....and that's sad. Just because you are unable to recognize the free play of symbols and signifiers in everyday conversation, and hold your own amongst them, that's no excuse for me to imply you are unintelligent and childlike. It's a pity you can't extend others this simple courtesy.
Christine E. April 17, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Hah, how quickly you are to jump to all sorts of conclusions instead of just reading my post exactly as what it is...an explaination for why humans will kill some animals and not others. At no point in my argument did I say that I didn't fall into the same category.. At no point did I say I was against guns. At no point did I say I didn't believe in the food chain. But you were awfully defensive, weren't you? The food chain is something nature intended. What you're describing doesn't compare. You're saying that a coyote simply walking across your yard should be killed, and you're coming up with SO many reasons other than the real one - which is, they hold no significant value to you. They "might" have rabies? stupid excuse...Skunks, bats, squirrels, bunnies...they could all have rabies...do you shoot them when they come on your property because they MIGHT have rabies? One minute, you're saying you want your animals to be FREE as nature intended. The next minute, you're comparing defending them as if a coyote would defend their newborns. So, which is it? Are they animals which are to be free, or are they your babies that you need to protect? Sounds to me like you want them to be free within the realm of human control, which is fine...but vastly different than nature intended.
QWERTY April 17, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Day, then please enlighten me. You "have a policy" to shoot an animal that, by nature, fears humans...regardless if it poses a threat to you. So using your logic, I would be justified in shooting you should you enter my property...hell you could be "carrying rabies".
Jimmy Pursey April 17, 2012 at 08:39 PM
@Rob- I didn't imply you had any "fear". I merely stated a simple fact numerous times, and you still are unable to grasp it. Good luck with that.
The Mirror April 17, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Sorry Jimmy, but you're the one who made the common (albeit weak) attempt to mock, rather than discuss. Obviously, you were aiming at my comment, since you parroted the words back in a twisted form. And I'm quite well-versed in the language arts, as well as in debate, and I'm confident I can do more than hold my own in discussions with you or anyone else on these forums.
DAY April 18, 2012 at 02:10 AM
QWERTY: actually, using your logic you wouldn't be justified shooting me if I entered your property. Like the coyote, I fear certain humans too.. I also recognize your prose. We last tangled over the health care law, didn't we?
Mr D. April 18, 2012 at 02:08 PM
I'm surprised that nobody mentioned one aspect of the problem: we're feeding those animals, so they become less fearful of humans and more aggressive. Some people feed them voluntarily (my neighbor puts food out for the raccoons, apparently she's never heard of something called "rabies"!), but many feed them involuntarily by leaving their garbage cans uncovered, leaving pet food outside, having easily reachable bird feeders, etc. We need to start using common sense in these matters. Think coyotes are bad? Try a bear! Bears have become a big nuisance in Vermont and Massachusetts, and it's only a matter of time before they become one in CT.
Dan Slywka April 18, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Im with you Waxy.
Dan Slywka April 18, 2012 at 04:33 PM
This is a simple problem, the population is too high, the DEEP recognizes it, and its doing more to encourage trappers in order to reduce the population. The coyote is searching further to find food/resources, and now find themselves looking for pets/livestock as their next meal. I do not sanction killing anything without a definite purpose, but if a coyote came around my child/pet/chickens/dog/cat/horse I'd shoot it. I know people that have witnessed coyotes eating livestock alive, and taking down and killing calves or injured/sick livestock. I understand wild animals need to eat, but our pets and farm animals are too easy a meal for coyotes.
QWERTY April 20, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Yes DAY, that is correct...using my logic, I wouldn't shoot you if you entered my property without aggression. This is how normal people act. I'm not sure what point you're trying to prove here.
Elyse April 20, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Nah, as soon as a bear steps foot in Connecticut, someone flattens it with a car (ditto for mountain lion and moose as well). Cars are very unfriendly to animals in this state.
OxfordCitizen April 24, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I keep chickens and work from home. When I have wild animals attack or attempt to attack my birds I dispatch them. I've lived in CT all my life. I love animals as much as the next person but really, enough is enough. You can't plant anything in your yard without having the deer tear it up. Now you can't let your pets outdoors without them getting ripped apart in front of your children and yet when folks talk about guns, hunting, pest/population controls we're horrible ? How about the spread of Lyme disease ? Please......

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