In November, a 5-pound Maltese, a family pet of a Mount Pleasant couple, was snatched up and killed by a coyote estimated to be between 40 and 50 pounds.
About a month later, a Madison family’s dog died of a broken neck and several bite marks believed to be inflicted by a coyote.
And though coyote attacks on pets are rare, several Greenfield residents are concerned the conditions in a neighborhood on the city’s north side near are ripe for a similar incident.
“At night you can actually hear them howling and doing what coyotes do,” neighbor Christine Bruce said. “Once you hear the sound of the coyotes catching something, you won’t forget it.”
Robin and Mike Mallon, who have lived in the 4600 block of West Tesch Avenue for nearly 18 years, thought a sighting of two large coyotes in the neighborhood in January was an isolated incident. They had never seen coyotes in the area before.
But the coyotes made another appearance in late February. The area behind the Mallons’ home is an open field that runs east to west and has become a sort of off-leash dog park that stretches beyond the neighborhood’s unofficial borders of 51st Street and 43rd Street. It’s not uncommon for Robin Mallon to see people she isn’t familiar with strolling through the field with their dogs at all times of day and night.
Early one February morning, Robin Mallon was letting her dog out in the her backyard when she saw what she thought was an off-leash dog near the edge of their property. After a second look she determined it was in fact a coyote.
“Since I saw that one in the actual daylight hours, I have been hoping he was just a particularly bold one and not indicative of some growing problem around here," Robin Mallon said.
Becky and Baltazar Lopez have three young children and have lived in the same neighborhood as the Mallons for nearly seven years. They first spotted a coyote walking around in their yard, watching birds before eventually laying down in the yard for about an hour in December.
According to the state's Department of Natural Resources website, coyote attacks on people are extremely rare, so rare that one DNR specialist told The Racine Journal Times in December he knows of no attacks on people in Wisconsin. Still, Becky Lopez is concerned enough that she does not allow her sons near the backyard.
“They have played in the snow in the front yard a few times, but I have been wondering if that is even safe,” Lopez said. “Some neighbors have told us that the coyotes have been seen crossing the street out front. … I do not get home from work until midnight and am very leery getting out of my vehicle when I get home.
“I certainly hope these animals move on before the summer or it will really limit our outdoor activities.”
According to Christine Bruce, who along with her husband Nate has lived in the neighborhood for more than 16 years, the coyotes have been around for a few years. The Bruces used to frequently walk their pug in the open field; now they stay in the neighborhood armed with flashlights and an air horn.
Bruce said she has spoken to members of several different city departments and the DNR about her and her neighbors’ concerns.
“Everyone told me the same thing,” Bruce said. “Nothing they can do to help. I told them how many kids walk through the field and how some day something is going to happen.
“Yes, we are afraid. It’s not something we can control or handle on our own. This neighborhood is full of dogs and quite a few kids. Not being able to take your pets outside is ridiculous. Seriously -- going outside with air horns and flashlights, something needs to be done.”
Environmental Health Specialist Mary Kapelis said the city’s Health Department has not received any recent complaints or inquiries regarding Greenfield’s coyote population but added February and March are usually the animal’s breeding season.
Not isolated incidents
Several other Greenfield residents told Greenfield Patch on Facebook they have seen coyotes in other parts of the city:
- Janet Christiansen: “There are coyotes all over around there. They are in the woods behind , in the field behind the houses and cemetery where all those high-tension (wires) are. I believe there are some around and the high school also; in the summer at night you can hear them howling.”
- Amy Lashway Thieme: “On Forest Home/56th, down by 51st and Morgan and also saw some at St Johns on 68th/Forest Home last week on the playground!”
- Trina Luebstorf: “I see them all the time in the summer in Konkel Park.”
That’s not a surprise to Greenfield Police Assistant Chief Paul Schlecht, who said it is common for the department to get calls from residents about coyotes in their backyard or elsewhere. He’s even seen them himself near Jackson Park while working night shift years ago, and as recent as last year while driving on the Root River Parkway near Layton and Forest Home.
But to the best of his knowledge, coyotes have not become a threat to residents, and he said it would take an extreme case for police to get involved.
“They’re everywhere in the city; they’re just part of the natural landscape,” Schlecht said. “If there’s a certain coyote that’s being aggressive somewhere, we may take a different action. But unless we’re in a position where we’re protecting human lives, they’re part of the wildlife.”
What citizens can do to help
According to a press release issued by the Department of Natural Resources, prompted by the attack in Mount Pleasant, coyotes can grow both bold and indifferent to humans. But Tim Lizotte, the DNR’s area wildlife supervisor for Southeast Wisconsin, coyote reports are about average for this time of year.
"We usually get one or two a week, and that's been about the same for this year," Lizotte said in an in December. "Coyotes are our number one nuisance animal call."
Lizotte said coyotes are a concern because of their ability to live amongst human populations, which continue to spread into traditional coyote territories. They naturally hunt small prey so cats and small- to medium-sized dogs out loose in their yards trigger a coyote's instincts. Lizotte said homeowners can protect their pets in a couple of different ways:
- Make sure backyards are well-lit
- Put up a fence
- Walk dogs on a leash to limit the possibility coyotes will see them as competition
- Don't leave out any food, not even bird seed because mice and squirrels will also get attracted, which brings coyotes
- Show any animals that appear your dominance over your yard by making a lot of noise and throwing things like tennis balls at the animal(s).
"If people show they're the dominant one, the coyotes will respect the human territory," Lizotte added.
If homeowners are really uncomfortable though, the DNR urges residents to hire someone to trap and remove the animal.
"Landowners can resolve 99 percent of the problems associated with coyote populations," Lizotte said. "People have the power in their own hands. Unfortunately, DNR wildlife management doesn't get money for staff for nuisance animals."