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.