Fla. — In the dead of night, Don Tooley hears them
howling, baying in the dark.
were a problem five years ago," said Tooley, 64,
citing the mysterious disappearances of neighborhood
pets, presumably to coyotes that prowl the Butler Ridge
subdivision in Windermere, Fla. "They’re a bigger
now keeps his two large dogs, Blue and Bear, on leashes
whenever he walks them, and he carries a boat horn to
scare off coyotes.
years, the opportunistic hunters have been a nuisance in
central Florida, rummaging through trash cans, stalking
cats and yipping after dark. But wildlife experts say
coyotes are becoming more troublesome, especially in
neighborhoods with woodlands and green space, and
worried residents are beginning to fight back. At least
one neighborhood in Ocoee, Fla., hired trappers this
month to cull coyotes after a small dog was snatched
from its owner’s yard on Christmas Day.
to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission, there have been no reported coyote attacks
on humans in the neighborhoods. But wherever coyotes are
heard at night or seen at dawn or dusk, they become the
suspect when pets disappear. Residents in some
communities offer firsthand accounts of deadly pet
entanglements with coyotes.
neighbor, Rachel Pringle, shrieked at a coyote as it
crept toward Cookie, the youngest of her two Yorkshire
terriers. "Cookie," she recalled yelling.
Cookie and Pringle’s other pet Yorkie, Toto, were in
her yard, Pringle had made the mistake of taking her
eyes off the little dogs. Her terrified shout spooked
the coyote, which turned quickly in the darkness and
bolted from the front yard to the side yard, where the
other Yorkie stood. Just that fast, Toto was gone.
than a year has passed since a coyote ran off with the
Yorkie, and the coyotes seem emboldened, Pringle said.
"Ever since then, it’s a common occurrence,"
she said of coyotes in her yard. "I told all the
children in the neighborhood, ‘Stay together. Be
careful after dark.’"
state’s wildlife commission cannot provide an accurate
population count for coyotes, but their numbers appear
to be increasing statewide along with complaints. An
agency primer on the species points out that coyotes
were reported in just 18 of Florida’s 67 counties in a
1981 wildlife survey. They are present now in every
county, said commission spokesperson Joy Hill.
professional trapper for four decades, Bill Crowder,
president of the Florida Trappers Association, said
coyotes are the most common nuisance complaint fielded
by his group. They were not a problem 40 years ago, he
rabbits and feral cats make up a coyote’s usual diet.
But they roam and make their homes where they find food.
More and more often, that is wooded areas around
residential neighborhoods, Crowder said. A coyote sees a
house pet as dinner.
you offered me a free hamburger, I’d be at your house
every night," he said, explaining the spate of
reported attacks on cats and small dogs in residential
areas. "Same with coyotes."
described trapping as "an option of last
resort," but he defended the practice as necessary
when a coyote loses its instinctive fear of humans.
when real trouble’s possible," he said.
everyone is ready to take up arms against coyotes.
Kimberly Huffman, a resident of Kensington Manor in
Ocoee, was outraged when she learned that her homeowners
group had hired trappers. The decision was announced in
an email with a subtitle: "Board votes to go to war
know I may sound like a crazy animal activist, but I’m
fighting for what I believe in," said Huffman, who
on the homeowners association’s Facebook page debated
neighbors who expressed concerns about coyotes attacking
their children. "I think it’s wrong to kill an
animal for following its instincts. … We should
co-exist with them. They have as much right here as we
suggested measures to keep coyotes away, including wind
chimes and motion-activated lighting.
The Plantation at Leesburg, Fla., Chuck Celli said he
saw a large coyote snatch two golf balls from the
fairway of the development’s golf course Jan. 3. The
animal ran toward a marshy area with the golfers hot on
his tail in a cart.
coyote won the race," Celli said.
Woods resident Mike Inderhees, who helped organize the
informational meeting, said many neighbors are eager for
trappers to get to work. A neighbor’s adult son had to
kick a coyote off the family dog last year.
in the 88-home neighborhood describe the animals as
increasingly brazen, "sauntering around like they
own the place," Inderhees said. Others disagree,
believing that living with wildlife "is all part of
Florida," he said.
May, the Turnburry Woods homeowners association has been
mulling a strategy to keep coyotes at bay. The group
even obtained bids from trappers at $600 an animal.
State law requires trappers to kill captured coyotes.
can’t kill your way out of this problem," said
Becky Pomponio, spokeswoman for Project Coyote, a
California organization that promotes "educated
coexistence" between people and the species it
calls "America’s native wild song dog."
said people who live in areas where coyotes have been
seen or heard should inspect their yards for
"attractants" — potential food sources such
as open garbage cans, barbecue grills and bird feeders.
coyotes are very skittish. Instinctively, they fear
humans," Pomponio said. "But they lose their
fear when they find food near humans and we simply walk
by them, or if we retreat and don’t teach them to fear
your ground and make noise, she said.
a whistle. Spray them with your garden hose. Throw
tennis balls at them. Open an umbrella at them. Hit pots
and pans together," she said. "It’s really
quite rare for a coyote to bite a human. It’s normally
when somebody’s trying to feed them and they get used
recommended pet owners keep their animals close and
leashed, carry a stick when they walk them and bring
pets in at dark.
wildlife officials say coyotes breed once a year,
usually in winter, and have few natural predators, which
may account for their growth. An agency report released
five years ago predicted human conflicts with coyotes
it also warned: "Attempting to completely eliminate
coyotes is both expensive and futile."
coyote advisory from the University of Florida
underscored the difficulty with trapping and killing the
animals. When coyotes are removed from an area, the
document noted, new packs simply move in to fill the