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When Coyotes Kill

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It’s a frightful thought. You’re playing fetch with your dog. He retrieves the ball, brings it back, retrieves the ball, brings it back. And then one time, he doesn’t bring it back; he disappears. You look for him behind your house; you look for him down the street. And then you get a call from your neighbor: “Your dog is here and he’s torn up pretty good.” It’s nighttime, so you drive to Reno to the emergency vet facility. You’re thinking the neighborhood pit bulls must have attacked your dog, but the vet guesses otherwise. Coyote. The next day you take your dog to the local vet and he confirms the same thing, “The puncture wounds look like they’re from a coyote.” In the end, your dog dies, and from what you’ve been led to believe by two veterinarians, it’s possible he died by the grip of a Canas latrans.    

This terrible event occurred in late May to John and Candy Fish, who live at the east end of Donner Lake. Their dog, Bear, was a small border collie weighing approximately 30 pounds, and although he was 16 years old, he was still very active.

“It was awful,” said John. “People need to know about these events. There’s also been a lot of signs for missing cats, so you gotta wonder if coyotes are killing them, too. Especially this summer, we’ve been hearing the coyotes howling at night, and my neighbor sees them often at 6 a.m.”

Truckee Animal Control relayed two other incidents this summer, both in Tahoe Donner, one at dawn and the other at dusk, common times for coyotes to wander. One small dog was observed being taken by a coyote, never to return. The other dog was observed being taken by a coyote that was eventually scared away, leaving the pet with puncture wounds in its neck. This summer there have also been several coyote sightings in the Tahoe Vista park area, including one incident in which a small dog was taken while on a leash. I will never forget the story of my friend who, early one morning two years ago, encountered approximately six coyotes in Martis Valley moving toward her and her young dog in an aggressive manner. After leashing her dog and yelling at the coyotes and throwing rocks at them, she ran back to her car, deciding never again to walk in the valley at dawn.  

We dog (and cat) owners tend to think of these frightening scenes as isolated incidents. But are they?

In my research concerning coyotes attacking cats and dogs, I found some of the most common phrases used by the Agriculture Commissioners Office, Placer County Animal Control, Truckee Animal Control, and the U.S. Forest Service to be “not uncommon” and “coyotes are extremely opportunistic.” If coyotes see an opportunity to obtain food, they will not hesitate to seize the prey.

What can we do to avoid these not uncommon snatchings? Kris Boatner, wildlife biologist/natural resources officer of the Truckee Ranger District, offered some tips on how best to cohabitate with coyotes. First, recognize that we live in the coyote’s natural habitat. Because coyotes are adaptable, they will sometimes live right underneath our noses in drainages or in small green patches near our homes. Coyotes are omnivores and predators, so in the wild they eat berries, fruit, and carrion, and will hunt mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits, ground-nesting birds, and even a small fawn. In packs they can hunt full-grown deer. In our neighborhoods, we present all sorts of meals for them: discarded scraps in compost piles, bowls of dog and cat food, bird seed in bird feeders that attract chipmunks and squirrels, and thus coyotes. Obviously, to prevent such temptations we need to cover our compost, manage our trash, feed our pets indoors, and eliminate bird feeders. And, of course, it’s never wise to feed wildlife intentionally. While coyotes are not necessarily known to be climbers, they can scale a fence as tall as 4 to 5 feet in order to get the prey on the other side, according to Boatner.

We hear a lot of bear stories in Tahoe and are well educated on what to do and not to do with black bears, but we don’t hear much about coyotes. Boatner suggests that, just as we do with bears, we make coyotes uncomfortable in the presence of humans. Keep food inside the house, leave small dogs and cats in the house when you’re not home, and if you see a coyote in your neighborhood, stand tall, wave your arms, and yell and bang pots. Coyotes are intimidated by humans, for the most part, so let them know they’re not welcome. Lastly, if you witness a coyote injuring or killing a pet, report the incident to your local animal control center.

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Reader comments so far...

Spacey (not verified)
Eve Quesnel You lost me as soon as you attacked pitbulls! Your just another disgraceful media type who with anything with a spin on it on make people read your article. BUSH LEAGUE

Eve Quesnel (not verified)
Spacey, You're right, I wasn't clear. The owner's husband, John, suggested that HE thought maybe their dog was attacked by the neighborhood pit bulls. I should have put that in quotations marks! I have a pit bull mix myself, so no offense was intended. Eve Quesnel

Flavia (not verified)
Unfortunately this wildlife/domestic pet conflict happens all the time in Truckee/Tahoe. We live in coyote habitat and they are the top predator here, and given their opportunistic behavior they are very adaptable to human environments. I've heard of stories of pairs of coyotes trying to take down dogs as large as German Shepherds, with the owner helping to fight them off right next to the dog! My neighbor had their small terrier taken right in front of them, but luckily the coyote dropped the small dog and ran-off, after extensive trauma surgery the dog survived. A fellow husky owner had their dog jumped on by a small pack on the Granliebakken Ridge Trail (above the ski hill) 20 feet in front of them. Luckily the humans were close enough to run and scare the coyotes away. It's smart to bring or tie-out your dog at night, or at in the instance of a coyote howling and yapping in the neighborhood at night. They like to use a bait and lead the dog to the pack tactic, so just because you only see one coyote doesn't mean the pack isn't around the corner. If you walk your dog(s) in the evening it is wise to keep them on a leash, especially if they like to roam way ahead of you, like my huskies do. The coyotes really don't want to deal with a human, so keeping them close is a good best practice. I also like to keep my husky leashed during porcupine season, but that's a whole other issue.

Madonna Dunbar (not verified)
Project Coyote, out of the Bay area is an excellent resource for additional information.

Jackie (not verified)
We live in the Prosser Area and a coyote den of long duration is nearby. We have had them follow us while on horseback hoping that our tag along dogs will be far enough behind the horses to be easy bait.

EKIHD (not verified)
Coyotes, like other 'wild' animals are acting upon their instinct and what is in their DNA. They are some of natures most perfect and absolutely beautiful predators. They are intelligent and resourceful creatures. It is up to us as humans to protect our domesticated animals who have become utterly dependent upon us for their well being and safety. Sorry for your loss. Coyotes and other wild animals are part of the total natural beauty that we choose to be surrounded by.

Helen Smith (not verified)
Longchamp Pas Cher is in now, so it is very contemporary, I receive a lot of compliments on this well Lonpchamp Le Pliage bag. There is no exception to the one. Buy this Sac Longchamp. You will be happy you did just like i do.

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June 14, 2018