Urban coyotes: How to protect your pets

Injured coyote

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Coyotes seem to be a growing nuisance all across Tennessee, even in urban areas. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says they receive more calls about coyotes than any other wildlife species.

Galya Ritter spotted one right outside her neighbors house in the middle of the afternoon.

“It was just walking its own pace, not running fast, feeling very comfortable, feeling very very comfortable out there,” she said.

Ritter and her neighbors noticed it just feet away from the back door carrying its prey.

“It was not at all afraid. It was a little bit spooky,” she said.

What seems even more unusual is that her neighborhood is a busy one right in the middle of Fountain City.

“It really concerns me that they are so close because it seems to me that they are less and less afraid of us,” Ritter said.

She is not alone. Posts have flooded social media about coyotes spotted in East Tennessee urban areas.

“This appears to be a large male coyote, and this is pretty common where an animal has taken a house pet,” said University of Tennessee Wildlife Bioligist Chris Graves while examining pictures Ritter took.

He said it is pretty common, in fact, to see coyotes all around the area.

“People tend to be surprised when they see them, but really don’t be. We’re talking about one of the most opportunistic animals, wildlife species, that we have in the United States,” Graves said.

They spread east across most of the country. Food is what is driving these animals into our neighborhoods, dining on whatever is convenient.

“Garbage and not only that, but they’ll also eat free ranging pets,” Graves said.

Experts say you should not necessarily be afraid of them though. TWRA says only 30 attacks on humans have ever been recorded. You should keep an eye out for your dogs and cats though.

“We need to take care of our pets and make sure that everybody knows what’s happening out there,” Ritter said.

But at what point should you be concerned enough to take action?

“When you start seeing them more than once or twice a week on a regular basis, especially if you have pets, cats, something like that, then it’s time to start looking into doing something to get rid of them,” Doug Ashe with Classic Animal Control said.

Ashe gets multiple calls a week looking to remove coyotes.

He started getting calls from an apartment complex in West Knoxville about a coyote that had been hanging around. It was getting brave enough to start approaching people’s porches. Ashe says that is when it is really a concern.

“Basically we start out coming out and doing an assessment and evaluation of the area, see what the area looks like, see if we see any patterns that they would be using,” he said.

They bait and wait. It could take weeks to trap one coyote.

“Coyotes are one of the hardest animals that we have,” said Ashe.

But experts say the reality is these animals are here to stay, and in many cases we just need to learn to live among them.

“There’s a lot of wildlife species that are very adaptable,” Graves said.

Depending on the laws and regulations where you live, it could be okay to kill a coyote anytime you see one. There is no regular hunting season for them in Tennessee.

Some of the things TWRA says you can do to keep them from approaching your home are:

  • Do not feed coyotes!! When coyotes begin associating humans with food they loose their natural fears and may become dangerous.
  • Eliminate water sources. These areas attract rodents, birds, and snakes which the coyote will prey upon.
  • Position bird feeders so coyotes can not get to the feed. Coyotes may also be attracted to birds and small mammals that have been lured in by the feeder.
  • Do not discard edible garbage. Coyotes are opportunistic and will eat any table scraps.
  • Secure garbage containers. Use trash barrels with lids that clamp down tight even when tipped over.
  • Do not place trash cans out the night before scheduled pick-up. Placing cans out in the morning before pick-up will give coyotes less time to scavenge. They will not have cover of darkness.
  • Do not leave barbecue grill outside and uncovered. The smell of the grill and the contents of the grills drip pan attracts coyotes.
  • Feed pets indoors whenever possible. Remove any leftovers if feeding outdoors. Store pet food in areas not accessible to other animals.
  • Clear brush and weeds from around property. This deprives the coyote’s prey (small mammals and birds) of protective cover and deters coyote from hunting around your property.
  • A fenced yard may deter coyotes. The fence must be at least 6 feet high. Preferably the bottom of the fence should extend 6 inches below ground level.
  • Do not leave small children outside alone if coyotes have been frequenting the area.
  • Do not allow pets to run free. Provide secure housing especially at night. Small pets (cats, rabbits, small dogs) are favorite prey of coyotes.
  • Discourage coyotes from frequenting your area. Harass them by throwing rocks, shouting, and making loud noises when one is seen.