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Anxiety follows coyote release

County residents are fearful for families and pets.

By THERESA BLACKWELL
Published October 18, 2006


After Pinellas County released a coyote near the Safety Harbor neighborhood where it was found last week, residents countywide started buzzing.

Why, some asked, release the predator near a neighborhood with pets and children?

Why can't someone do something about these wild animals?

And how soon before they attack a person?

In response, a county official who has spent more than two years monitoring coyotes offers some reassuring answers and straight talk.

The 37-pound coyote released last week near Philippe Parkway will be monitored to give officials better information about the elusive animal.

Meanwhile, attacks on humans are highly unlikely, says Pinellas County urban wildlife officer Rick Stahl. Still, he says, we must learn to live with the highly adaptable and intelligent Canis latrans.

Why?

Because we have no choice.

 Lost: five cats

Coyotes have been in Florida for more than 30 years, and locally they've turned up from the Pasco County line south to the Sunshine Skyway.

Bill and Beverley Mills, on 98th Street N in Seminole, have a soft spot for cats that need a home. Along with the cats, they have dogs, chickens and a peacock.

Early this year, cats started disappearing.

First Roger. Then Ricky and Jerry. Then a stray they hadn't named yet.

In July, it was Ren, a female cat Bill Mills especially liked. Mills, 61, was leaving for his job as an architect in July when he noticed something in the roadway.

It was Ren's head.

Three or four chickens disappeared, then two weeks ago, Beverley Mills watched from her back porch as a coyote ran after her white peacock, Henry.

Henry honked and barely got off the ground, she said. He landed on the roof and stayed there for two days.

"I have nothing against any living creature," Beverley Mills said. "But my animals and I have a right to be here without fearing for our lives."

False perceptions

Every state with coyote problems has tried exterminating them, Stahl said, sometimes with hideous methods.

It doesn't work.

When a coyote family is removed, the rodent population increases and another coyote family soon moves in, he said. With the abundance of food, the new family may produce a bigger litter.

At the same time, people have some common misconceptions about coyotes, said Stahl, who has documented sightings and attacks in Pinellas for 32 months.

One misconception is that coyotes are naturally aggressive toward humans. There has been no record of coyotes attacking humans in Pinellas County, he said. Coyotes are shy of humans - but will remain so only if we keep them at a distance. He said we should stand tall and frighten away any coyote we see in our yards.

"Walk out in your yard," he said. "Wave your arms. Stomp your feet. Kick pebbles or whatever."

And never feed a coyote.

"It could lose its fear of people," Stahl said. "Then we would have to take drastic action, which we don't want to do."

Despite reports of coyotes killing cats and small dogs, Stahl said small pets are more than 20 times more likely to be seriously injured or killed by a large dog than by a coyote. Cars, infections and human cruelty pose further dangers.

Cats allowed to roam outdoors live two to five years, Pinellas County Animal Services estimates, while indoor cats live to 17 or older.

Another problem Stahl sees is that residents have no understanding of the coyote's place in our ecosystem. He said they keep our rodent population in check and moderate numbers of raccoons, opossums and other mid sized predators. Foxes often move out when coyotes enter a territory.

When Beverley Mills learned about the role coyotes play in the ecosystem, she had one comment.

"The rats they can have."

Protecting loved ones

On her back porch Monday, Beverley Mills, 58, petted the occasional cat or one of her two Welsh Corgis, Captain Morgan and Lady Madison. In the yard, roosters crowed, chickens scratched and Henry paced the yard.

Since a coyote ran after Henry in broad daylight, Bill and Beverley Mills are listening to the county's advice for living with coyotes. Over the weekend, they started screening in the large back porch with heavy wire fencing to keep the cats and dogs inside. And they plan to repair a hole in the chicken pen.

They hope to finish the jobs before other pets disappear.

"You love some more than others," Mrs. Mills said of her animals. "But you don't want to see anything happen to any of them."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

 

FAST FACTS

LIVING WITH COYOTES

- Keep them wild and shy of humans. Make loud noises, spray water to frighten coyotes away.

- Keep small pets indoors and feed them indoors.

- Never feed coyotes. Keep bird feeders out of reach and secure trash cans.

- Protect livestock and pets with fences at least 6 feet tall, dug into the ground at least 6 inches. Sections that angle outward from the top of a fence can help keep coyotes out.

- Coyote attacks on children are rare, none have been reported in Pinellas, but watching small children where coyotes are present is advisable.

- Clear brush around your home.

Sources: Pinellas County Animal Services and the Pinellas County Extension. For more information, call Pinellas County Animal Services at 727 582-2600 or visit www.itsyourtimes.com/?q=node/1873.

 

[Last modified October 18, 2006, 11:22:22]


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