With coyote sightings on the rise in Seattle neighborhoods, many residents have concerns about the safety of local pets, and not without reason. Coyotes have adapted to life in almost every part of North America, including large urban areas like Seattle. We are naturally concerned for the safety of our furry family members, and the close proximity of wild predators can be a cause for alarm. In this post, PugetPets looks at coyote fact and fiction and explores what to do if you encounter a coyote. By employing a few best practices, people and pets can comfortably live alongside these dog-relatives with whom we share our city and our planet.
Coyotes have become a part of the urban landscape. In a February interview, one Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officer was quoted as saying, “they are here, they are not going anywhere.” Past attempts to eradicate coyote populations from urban areas by killing them proved to be short-sighted and ineffective, often having the opposite effect. This is because when one coyote is killed, another immediately moves in to take its territory. In addition, a decrease in their population causes coyotes to adopt breeding strategies that make up for the losses. This can mean a subsequent population increase. Coyotes, it seems, are here to stay. In recent times, more cities and communities are shifting to management policies emphasizing coexistence. Cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Toronto have led the way in demonstrating how major metropolitan areas can live with these amazingly adaptive animals and even benefit from doing so.
The old saying that we fear what we don’t understand certainly applies to urban coyotes. By understanding the real lives and habits of our wild neighbors we can adapt our own behavior to decrease the risk of harmful interactions.
Reality: Statistically, lightning, deer and even cows pose a greater risk to humans than coyotes. Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare and usually involve a habituated animal that has lost its natural fear of humans as a result of human behavior. One study reported 142 coyote attacks on humans in the US and Canada for the nearly half-century period between 1960 and 2006. By contrast, 4.5 million people are bitten by domestic dogs each year in the United States alone.
Reality: Coyotes do occasionally prey on smaller, free-roaming domestic animals (as do bald eagles). However, diet studies show that rodents, rabbits, insects, fruit and carrion make up the bulk of their diet. Chicago’s coyotes are noted for their work in controlling the city’s rat population. If your neighborhood is relatively rat-free, you may have a coyote to thank for it.
Reality: Coyotes like to hunt at night and during crepuscular (dawn and dusk) hours, but they are not nocturnal animals. They are simply taking advantage of the habits of much of their prey along with the lower level of human activity at night. It is perfectly normal for a coyote to be roaming about during daylight hours.
Reality: A coyote typically ranges between 18 and 40 pounds. They are shy animals by nature and will usually avoid human contact. Like dogs, they are curious and playful. They may approach domestic dogs in this way, but they also are protective of their mates and pups and may react negatively to bold dog behavior.
Reality: Coyotes are highly flexible in social organization. They most often mate for life and may live either in nuclear families or in loosely-knit packs of unrelated individuals. However, they prefer to hunt and travel alone or in pairs. As a result, they rarely take large prey.
If you’ve seen or encountered coyotes in your neighborhood, there are some simple and effective ways to keep interactions with them to a minimum and keep your pets safe. Below are some steps you can take, courtesy of Project Coyote, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.
Resist the urge to give handouts to wildlife. A coyote who learns that humans are an easy source of free food will feel comfortable in your back yard. Such an animal will not distinguish between your table scraps and your small pet if the opportunity presents itself.
It’s also important to remove food sources you may unintentionally supply. Feed pets indoors. Keep garbage and compost securely covered and inaccessible. Pick up fallen fruit. Coyotes love fruit and berries. To discourage them from foraging in your yard, be sure to harvest or remove any fallen fruit. If you can’t use all the fruit on your trees, consider sharing your fall fruit harvest with City Fruit, who will put it to a variety of good uses, including donating to food banks, making compost, and of course, cider!
Obey leash laws. Supervise your pets and small children, particularly during the dawn and dusk hours. If you have indoor-outdoor cats, be sure to bring them in during these times. They may not like it, since they, too, want to be out hunting at these hours, but it can make the difference in keeping them off the menu. For some ways to appeal to your cat’s wild nature indoors, check out this PugetPets blog post.
Hazing can be an effective tool to encourage coyotes’ natural fear of humans. If you feel a coyote is too close for comfort, make yourself look large by raising your arms in the air. Make eye contact with the coyote and shout, “Go away!” Rattling a can with a penny in it or popping open an umbrella are also easy hazing tools.
If you’re with your dog, make sure they are on a short leash. Pick up your small dog or stand in front of your large dog to put the coyote’s focus on you and your message. This will also let your dog know that you are handling the situation. If the coyote does not go away, this could mean there is a den with pups nearby. In that case, keep control of your dog and move away calmly. Do not run. Choose a different walking route that avoids that area for a time. Have your dog vaccinated. Canine distemper and parvovirus are communicable between coyotes and domestic dogs. Never allow your dog to play with a coyote.
…at a distance! Keeping your local coyotes at a respectful distance will help keep both them and pets safe. For more on dogs and coyotes, you can download Project Coyote’s free fact sheet, Dogs and Coyotes: What You Need To Know. Visit ProjectCoyote.org for more information on when and how to haze coyotes, the science and ethics of coexistence, educational materials, and programs for schools and cities. For additional science-based information on urban coyotes, check out Chicago/Cook County’s Urban Coyote Research Project website. If you see a coyote, you do not need to report it to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife unless it is acting aggressively and does not respond to hazing. Visit WDFW’s Living with Wildlife web page for more ways to safely observe coyotes and minimize conflicts.
The coyote, “America’s Song Dog,” was a presence on our continent long before urban neighborhoods and pets entered the scene. Intelligent and resourceful animals, they continue to adapt and survive by sharing space with increasingly dense human populations. By educating ourselves and following best practices, we can learn to share space with them and protect our pets at the same time.