October 19, 2010
Detroit Free Press
Coyotes on the rise in suburbs
They attack pets, are thriving and here to stay
By Tina Lam
They number in the tens of thousands statewide, and officials say their numbers are growing in southeast Michigan because they have few predators and can easily find food here. They have learned to survive in parks, woods and on golf courses.
A spate of recent coyote sightings and attacks on dogs have drawn fear and attention to the creatures.
Two dogs have been attacked since Oct. 3 in Troy, and residents have reported seeing coyotes in Novi in the past two weeks, including one Friday afternoon.
Wildlife experts say coyotes are here to stay. The question is what to do about it.
Coyotes that attack pets or can't be scared away need to go, said the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment. It allows residents to trap or kill coyotes on their property year-round without a permit.
Wildlife rehabilitator Holly Hadac of Oxford disagrees and said coyotes should mostly be left alone.
"Squirrels are more aggressive," she said.
Cities and townships are divided over the issue.
Increase in coyotes sets off a howl
After spotting one coyote in his backyard and two more on a nearby street in the past 10 days, Novi resident Rob Sankovic watched Thursday afternoon as two trappers discussed where to put snares in woods that back up to his property.
Trapper Justin Caverly of Southfield returned early Friday morning to find the snares empty. But just before 1 p.m. Friday, Sankovic again saw a coyote, limping, on the sidewalk near Mallott and Meadowbrook. He took a picture on his cell phone. Police arrived a few minutes later, but the coyote was gone.
"It was in broad daylight and the coyote had an 'I own the sidewalk' kind of attitude," Sankovic said.
He hired Critters-Be-Gone of Waterford last week because he fears the coyotes, which neighbors say they also have seen, could attack his small dog or worse, kids on nearby playgrounds or those waiting for the bus on dark mornings.
A rash of coyote sightings and two attacks on dogs in Troy in the past two weeks have left some residents nervous. A coyote picked up Patricia Blaszczak's dog, Sunshine, in its mouth in the backyard of her Troy home on Oct. 3, but dropped the animal when Blaszczak screamed at it. Nine days later, another dog in the same area, near John R and Orpington, was bitten by a coyote.
Here to stay
The Department of Natural Resources and Environment has a message for people in areas where coyote sightings have made news: Get used to it because coyotes are everywhere. None has bitten a human in Michigan, but small pets are definitely at risk.
Tim Payne, the department's wildlife manager for southeast Michigan, said compared with 10 or 15 years ago, the number of coyotes in metro Detroit has definitely increased, although he doesn't have firm numbers.
In the past five years, coyotes have attacked pets in Westland, Eastpointe, Canton, Howell, Livonia, Bloomfield Hills, Farmington Hills, Troy and three of the Grosse Pointes. They have been spotted much more widely. A coyote was captured near the Renaissance Center after running past the federal courthouse in Detroit in 2007.
Coyotes are plentiful here for several reasons, Payne and other experts said. Fewer people trap fur-bearing animals, as pelt prices are low. Coyotes' main predator is wolves, which aren't found here. Coyotes are adaptable and have learned to live in parks, on golf courses, in culverts and in wooded areas near subdivisions. They eat rabbits, squirrels, mice and voles, which are plentiful in backyards. Add to that garbage, fallen fruit and pet food, and urban coyotes are as comfortable in subdivisions as raccoons.
State allows trapping
As they edge closer to humans, there are two schools of thought on what to do about the creatures. One is to learn to appreciate and coexist peacefully with them; the other is to treat them as dangerous animals.
The DNRE allows hunting and trapping of coyotes in certain seasons with a license -- some 20,000 a year are killed that way across the state -- and year-round trappings and killings of coyotes by homeowners, without a license.
State rules say coyotes can be trapped on private property if owners believe the animals "have done or are about to do damage." That was intended for sheep herders, but it covers anyone, Payne said.
"We interpret that pretty liberally," he said.
Payne noted, however, that homeowners can only shoot coyotes in cities or townships that allow hunting, which most do not. Homeowners must hire a company to trap the coyote.
Payne said the DNRE does not deal with nuisance or injured coyotes. "There's a whole private industry out there set up to do that," he said.
Municipalities take action
Some cities try to take care of problem coyotes. But others leave the job to homeowners.
Grosse Pointe Woods hired a trapper after a dog was killed in a backyard near Lochmoor Country Club in December. In February, a female coyote was caught. By March, the city said there were no more sightings, but that it would take more action if there were.
Oakland County Animal Control deals with wildlife only if a human has been bitten, and urges people to hire a trapper.
Troy animal control is trying to trap coyotes near Blaszczak's house, but so far, the traps have been empty, said Lt. Bob Redmond, public information officer. "People think we have one wild coyote on the loose here," he said. Experts said there is probably a pack of seven or eight in the area, and plenty more beyond that, he said. "Even if we catch the coyote, we'll never know if it was the right one."
In Novi, the mere sight of coyotes won't bring city action, said Assistant Police Chief Victor Lauria. Shooting an animal just because it's walking through a residential neighborhood would not be an appropriate response, and the department wouldn't destroy an animal just because it's injured, he said.
"But we're not going to just drive away, either," he said. "People should call us if they're worried about it and we'll work on it."
After a dog was killed by a coyote around Halloween 2008 in Bloomfield Hills, coyotes were a hot topic and the city considered hiring a trapper or sharpshooter. But Director of Public Safety Rick Matott said the city didn't do anything and there haven't been more complaints.
Bloomfield Township urges peaceful coexistence. "The existence of the coyote in our community does not demand they be hunted or removed," its Web site says. "Instead, the coyote is worthy of our understanding and respect."
Several years ago, Livonia hired Varmint Police, a Westland trapping firm, to capture coyotes. The city's Web site encourages people to learn to coexist with the creatures, but it also maps sightings and will cull problem coyotes.
Live and let live
Some people have mixed feelings about coyotes.
Bill Bloink's 12-year-old pit bull, Cletus, met a gruesome end in March near Howell after a pack of coyotes attacked the 90-pound dog when his owner let him and a bull mastiff out around 4:30 a.m.
When Cletus failed to return, Bloink found a big circle of blood, bits of dog and coyote fur and signs of a struggle in the snow. He eventually found Cletus' mangled body in a neighbor's pond. Tracks and blood showed coyotes had chased the dog into the water, where he froze to death.
Despite his loss, Bloink still welcomes the nighttime wails of coyotes nearby. "I'd rather hear that than sirens," he said.
He believes only a coyote that comes too close to homes in daylight hours needs to be captured. "There's obviously something wrong with that animal," he said.
Mary McIlraith, whose Livonia home backs up to woods, saw a coyote on her deck at night in February 2010. "It scared me," McIlraith said. "I have a cat that likes to go out at night." She saw coyotes through the summer and a neighbor spotted a pair in late September in a ravine near the homes.
But she's not sure she wants them gone.
Mark Evans' view is that coyotes are a danger to humans and their pets, and that's enough reason to kill them. Evans, a trapper and hunter licensed to deal with nuisance animals, runs Critters-Be-Gone. He says it's foolish to relocate coyotes, as some advocate, and those that are trapped should be killed. Since not all cities or townships allow shooting within their limits, that means smashing their skulls or euthanizing them.
Evans trapped 14 coyotes in Waterford Township last winter and is working with Sankovic in Novi and another homeowner in Brighton. The coyotes are smart enough to learn to avoid snares and traps.
In winter, Evans said, he paints the lines of snares he uses white to match the snow, uses gloves to mask his scent and brushes away his tracks. Still, some coyotes are able to avoid the snares.
Holly Hadac of Oxford works as a wildlife rehabilitator and an educator for the Indiana Coyote Rescue Center. She considers it a mission to inform people about coyotes and teach them to live with them. She relocates coyotes she cares for and says killing them won't reduce the population, since coyotes from other territories will move in.
"It's all about the food," she said.
Bill Sutherland, owner of Varmint Police, has trapped dozens of coyotes for Livonia over several mating seasons. In winter, about half the calls he gets are about coyotes, he says. He euthanizes those he catches with drugs. He also gets calls from people who think what he does is wrong.
"I get people crying that these are God's creatures," he said. "But it wasn't their family pet that got chewed up."
Coyotes are the most challenging animal he traps, and he has respect for them, Sutherland said. "If you see one, take a picture of it, because you live in a cool area," he said.
"But if it got your dog by the neck or it's jumping fences, call me."