Pictured is Anthem Pets rescue dog Bridget. Bridget was attacked by coyotes but thankfully survived.

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Keeping pets safe while coexisting with wildlife


Elizabeth Medora

NORTH VALLEY – The North Valley is home to thousands of families and their pets now. It’s also home to many species of wildlife, including some that prey on small animals, including pets. Keeping pets safe and coexisting with wildlife continues to be a challenge, and residents are looking for more options for pet safety.

On Oct. 30, Anthem Country Club residents Tom McDermott and his wife lost one of their dogs to a bold pack of coyotes. The coyotes came up to the family’s view fence while they were in the backyard with their dogs and were able to grab the 9-month-old Shih Tzu/Maltese through the fence. The family and their neighbors all immediately chased the pack and tried their best to recover the little pup, but, sadly, the coyotes were too fast.

“They’re like our kids,” McDermott said of his dogs. “We always watch them, always, always, always.” But in this case, even their presence wasn’t sufficient to scare the coyote pack away.

After the loss of his dog, McDermott spoke to several other people who had also lost their dogs to coyotes.

“I found out it’s widespread,” he reported. A resident he spoke to told him her Yorkie was taken by coyotes that jumped a six-foot-wall.

Sadly, stories like these aren’t uncommon. Coyotes, bobcats, and other predators can easily scale backyard walls. Coyotes are adaptable and intelligent, and they’re habituated to humans, making them bold.

McDermott is trying to find new ways to protect his pets. Like many residents, he appreciates wildlife, but he wants his pets safe.

To protect pets from wildlife, the message is, first and foremost, to watch them when they’re outside. But in this case, the coyotes were able to reach through the view fence and were not frightened enough of the people outside to avoid them. So what can pet owners do to keep their pets safe?

“You have to make coyotes feel very unwelcome,” said Lynda Lambert, Public Information Officer for Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Just the presence of humans isn’t always enough to make coyotes stay away. While it’s rare for coyotes to challenge a person, they may try to lure a dog away from the safety of their owner and then take the dog.

Lambert emphasized that everyone in the area has to commit to making coyotes want to leave the area, calling it a “neighborhood solution.” She noted that if you see a coyote in your neighborhood, don’t ignore it – make an active effort to frighten it away. Residents should never feed coyotes since it encourages them to stay in the area.

“Any time you see them, you need to make tons of noise,” she said. She recommended spraying them with a hose if they’re near your backyard, as well as banging pots and pans, shaking coins in a can, or squirting them with a squirt gun filled with diluted ammonia to frighten them away.

To help prevent coyotes from getting into yards, Lambert recommends covering view fences with wire mesh and placing a flat electric fence wire on the top of block walls. Kennel areas that are secured to the ground and have a fully covered top also make going outside much safer for small dogs.

Making the coyotes feel unwelcome is best for everyone involved, including them. Issues with coyotes generally arise when they get too comfortable with humans.

Occurrences of rabies are very rare in coyotes, fortunately. Incidents of coyotes biting or scratching humans are uncommon, too, but it does happen.

“When they start biting, it is almost always attributed to habituation to humans and feeding,” Lambert said. She described an incident in which a coyote bit a child when the child was between it and a spread of food. Coyotes wouldn’t try to take a child, but they will try to get the child away from food that they want.

Kelly Fontaine, president of local animal rescue Anthem Pets, very nearly lost one of her dogs to a coyote when a coyote entered her backyard while she was out with her dogs. She was able to chase the coyote away, but, sadly, she knows many stories of dogs that didn’t survive coyote attacks.

“Coyotes are here all the time,” she said. She’s seen them trying to get to her neighbor’s large dog through their fence.

Fontaine reiterated that dogs are just not safe outside alone. Even large dogs are not necessarily safe outside, as a pack of coyotes can easily overcome even big dogs.

“You can’t let your dogs out in your yard alone. You just can’t,” she emphasized.

Anthem Pets recently took in a dog that was attacked by coyotes. Bridget, an approximately 10-year-old spaniel mix, was attacked by coyotes in the middle of the night near the pond at the Anthem park. An MCSO deputy heard Bridget being attacked and was thankfully able to save her. Bridget was brought to a 24-hour vet and was found to have non-serious puncture wounds. She’s fully healing now in the care of Anthem Pets and should be adoptable this week, as no owners ever claimed her.

Fontaine recommends that when out walking their dogs, dog owners carry a whistle or horn to scare away coyotes. She also carries bear spray.

Fontaine noted that retractable leashes are not safe for dogs, as they allow far too much space between dog and owner. A coyote could grab the dog, or an owl or hawk could swoop down on the dog in that distance.

Like small dogs, cats are extremely vulnerable if allowed outside, and Fontaine stressed that cats need to be strictly indoors for their safety. Game and Fish officer Lambert concurred with this, stating, “Outdoor cats don’t survive long in Arizona.” Not only will coyotes hunt outdoor cats, the cats function as an attractant since they’re an easy food source for a skilled predator like a coyote. Outdoor cats in the neighborhood encourage coyotes’ presence.

The coyotes certainly won’t be leaving the area entirely, but residents can work on discouraging them from neighborhoods. According to Game and Fish, coyotes have a more visible presence due to area development.

“There are a lot of them being displaced as housing development occurs,” Lambert said. “You very likely are seeing more simply because they’re having to move around.”

If a coyote starts getting defensive with people, causing human safety concerns, then Game and Fish will intervene. If they’re not a human safety concern, coyotes don’t get removed from an area.

“Game and Fish does not remove the coyotes, because biologically it has been shown when you remove them, they actually reproduce more to fill that niche,” Lambert said.

“They’re one of the most adaptable animals in the United States,” Lambert said regarding coyotes, adding that they’ve even been seen in New York City.

Lambert emphasized that it takes the whole neighborhood’s involvement to make it clear to the coyotes that they aren’t welcome.

“ I can’t say it enough – make it a place they don’t want to be,” Lambert said.

McDermott hopes that sharing his little dog’s heartrending story will help raise awareness about the dangers to pets. He referred to leaving dogs alone outside as a “ticking time bomb.”

“People think it’s not going to happen to them,” McDermott said.

Share information on wildlife with your neighborhood with brochures from Arizona Game and Fish Department. To request brochures, call (602) 942-3000.