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Family of coyotes disturbs Spring Hill neighborhood

It's not just the howling. Coronet Court residents fear for the safety of their families and their pets.

Published August 7, 2006

SPRING HILL - Shortly after Sandy Schook let her dog out one morning into her fenced-in back yard, she heard a commotion.

She ran to a window and saw Oscar, her family's German shepherd and Rottweiler mix, barking ferociously at a coyote standing on the other side of the fence. The coyote just stood there as Oscar went wild.

"Now Oscar patrols the fence, looking out for them," Schook said, standing on her front porch while the dog barked inside the house. "He watches."

That wasn't the only time Schook has seen or heard the coyotes howling in her Coronet Court neighborhood, near the Spring Hill Golf and Country Club, a place where the coyotes have also shown up regularly. The family - a male, female and several pups - seems to have recently moved into the neighborhood. And some residents are worried.

Last month, Schook's next-door neighbor, Emily Kramer, wrote a letter to the St. Petersburg Times about the coyotes after two attacked her miniature dachshund. While the tiny dog survived a gash to his right hindquarter and other bite and scratch marks, Kramer said she was worried about her safety.

Not long after the attack, Kramer wrote, she looked out the window to see six coyote pups and two adults in her yard in the middle of the day. Frustrated with the limited ways to deal with the animals - shooting them in a populated area like Spring Hill is not an option, nor is paying more than $200 to try and trap them - Kramer wanted to know what options were left.

"Why is it that we have to pay to protect our dogs and ourselves?" she asked. "Is the county going to wait until a child in our neighborhood is attacked? Or killed?"

According to Martin Main, a University of Florida professor who has studied the movement of coyotes into Florida, the solution can be as simple as keeping pets such as cats and small dogs indoors and making sure that garbage, pet food and other coyote lures are out of sight.

And, as coyotes and other wild animals in Florida continue to lose their habitat to human development, people need to learn how to co-exist with the creatures when they show up in back yards, Main said.

"We try to do that with alligators, and they are much worse predators than coyotes," he said. "If you see a coyote when with your dog or cat, pick up your pet. Coyotes are usually very timid and don't approach people."

While there have been rare cases where coyotes have bitten children - Main knew of none in Florida - he also pointed out that adult coyotes weigh 35 pounds at most.

In unpopulated areas of Florida, there are typically a pair of coyotes for each 10 to 15 square miles, Main said. In a future study, he hopes to find out more about the populations in more urbanized areas.

In Florida, coyote populations have grown over the past 30 years, coinciding with the spread of coyotes across the country in the past 60 years. As they have moved, the highly adaptable animals have also become accustomed to living in urban environments, such as Spring Hill.

"Statistics show that 100 people a day come into Florida, more than 1,000 a week," said Chad Allison, a nuisance wildlife biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "There is a continual loss of habitat, and animals basically have to adjust or die. It's a recurring theme in the human and wildlife conflict."

Because county animal services does not handle wildlife calls unless an animal poses an immediate threat, such as one that might have rabies, people dealing with coyotes and other animals are referred to the wildlife commission.

Allison advises those he talks to of their rights, which include shooting the animals if the residents do not live within city limits or populated areas. Complainants are also referred to state-licensed trappers.

Allison said he tells people to do what Main suggests. Don't leave things around that attract coyotes. Shout at the animal if you see one approaching you. Spray water at it with a hose or scare it off some other way.

"A lot of people put food out for these animals," Allison said. "We have to educate them of the dangers that presents. Coyotes are supposed to fear humans, not look to them for food."

In the meantime, it appears that Kramer, Schook and others on Coronet Court will have a few less coyotes to encounter. Three pups were found dead of unknown causes on the Spring Hill golf course about two weeks ago, and are believed to be of the same family as those on Coronet.

Maintenance crews and others accustomed to seeing the coyotes frolic across the course's greens in the early morning hours haven't seen the others in just as long. They think the coyotes are suffering from malnutrition.

"They never bothered anyone here," said Ben Enriquez, who runs the pro shop at the course. "Every once in a while they would try to eat a ball thinking it was an egg or something, and then spit it out. It was sad to see the babies go. But I guess that's nature."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at or 352 848-1432.

"Why is it that we have to pay to protect our dogs and ourselves? Is the county going to wait until a child in our neighborhood is attacked? Or killed?"

- Emily Kramer, who lives in the Coronet Court neighborhood, near the Spring Hill Golf and Country Club, where coyotes have been seen

avoiding coyotes

- Don't leave things around that attract coyotes.

- Shout at the animal if you see one approaching you.

- Spray water at it with a hose or scare it off some other way.

[Last modified August 6, 2006, 22:36:49]

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