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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

In Pinellas Park, the wild animals run amok

16

September

PINELLAS PARK -- While this city's officials have had their attention turned south and the dispute over paramedic positions, the north end of Pinellas Park has been having its own problems.

It appears the wild animals are doing what wild animals do -- resulting in decimated cat and duck populations and upset humans. The extent of the bloodbaths and distress can be seen in this exchange of messages among resident Michelle Drain, neighborhood services administrator Susan Walker, Greg Andrews of Pinellas County Animal Services, and Pinellas Park City Manager Mike Gustafson.

Aug. 27 from Drain to Gustafson, Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler, Vice Mayor Jerry Mullins, and council members Rick Butler, Sandy Bradbury and Ed Taylor:

"I am writing this letter regarding coyotes in Pinellas Park. Last night my female cat, Ghost, was snatched off my front porch and murdered by a coyote. I found the body parts in my front yard this morning.  Please note that my entire yard is chain linked fenced. The coyotes are becoming entirely too brazen in their actions, last night a cat, what next, a small child?


"It is time that you, the mayor, vice-mayor, City Council and city manager address this problem. According to authorities, the worst is yet to come.

"The increase in aggressiveness among Pinellas County coyotes is exactly what  the authorities would expect from a predator that has lived for generations in  close proximity to people.

"Coyotes will start snatching dogs right off leashes, crashing through lanai screens to grab cats by the throat and maul people trying  to protect their pets. I am attaching photos of the aftermath of the killing of Ghost. Be aware that these photos are graphic and are not for your viewing if you are squeamish."

Aug. 27, Andrews to Walker:

"Pinellas County Animal Services is unable to assist citizens with removal and/or trapping of coyotes. Coyotes have been in Pinellas County for many years now, and we have aggressively tried to communicate to the citizens by special events, speaking engagements, brochures, and our website to inform them of the do's and don'ts related to the coyote situation.

"Please see the following link on our website, which provides lots of information:  ww.pinellascounty.org/animalservices/coyotes/index.html.

"We place reported sightings on a map on this website, and out of all the reports, the main problem we see is that citizens owning cats that allow them to 'roam free' are having the most problems.

"First, in Pinellas County we have a leash law for cats, and should never be allowed to simply roam free.  There is also another good source for citizens to read regarding "Keeping Cats Indoors" which provides many reasons why they should be inside our homes versus being left outside. …

Coyotes are most active during the dusk and dawn hours and citizens should keep this in mind when walking their dogs as well.  When walking a dog you should also carry a walking stick or something to deter a coyote if approached, yell and scream at them, etc.  Also, they seem to be more active when we place our garbage out to be picked up, or if citizens are not keeping their garbage contained properly, coyotes may come up for a free meal.

"In addition, you should never leave pet food out even on a lanai, as they may come through the screen to get to the food, or even a small pet.  If your city, or citizens are so concerned about any in their immediate area a private trapper would need to be called.

"You could try the Florida Wildlife Commission, but I believe they may give you similar advice. I certainly understand that it is heartbreaking to lose a pet like this, but as an animal owner we need to protect our pets and keep them indoors or closely supervised, just like children."
Aug. 30, from Drain to Walker:

"I was extremely disappointed with your response to my email which was not even sent to you. I am assuming that my email was pawned off to you by Michael Gustafson, the city manager.  I do not know who you are or what a Neighborhood Services Administrator does.

"I purposely did not contact Pinellas County Animal Control because I knew in advance that they would totally blow me off and even go as so far to blame me for the death of my cat. As for my address, it was on my original email. If Animal Control read my letter, they could report a sighting.  As for a sighting map what good does it do if Animal Control does nothing?  Also, to the best of my knowledge, a coyote does not remain stationary.

"Unfortunately, I was mistaken thinking that the City of Pinellas Park would be helpful regarding this issue.  I guess Muscovy ducks are a more serious threat to the citizens of Pinellas Park than coyotes, since a trapper was hired to remove them from Freedom Lake.

"As for coyotes being in Florida for many years, alligators have been in Florida since the beginning of time and trappers are dispatched to deal with those that kill dogs and cats. Why are coyotes different? I am appalled at the manner in which my request for help has been handled.  Let's all pass the buck and do nothing.

"I am also very disappointed that I have had no direct response from any member of city council, the mayor or vice mayor. The only response I have received has been an indirect unsatisfactory one from the city manager."

 Aug. 30 from Gustafson to Drain:
"First I would like to say I am sorry for the loss of your pet. "I am surprised with your response today because I thought you considered this a neighborhood problem.  I forwarded your animal concern to Susan Walker, Neighborhood Services Administrator, whose job it is to address neighborhood concerns.  "Since the City does not address wild animals and the County does, I expected Susan Walker to forward this to the appropriate agency.  She did forward this to Pinellas County Animal Control, and they responded to your complaint.  "The City does not have the expertise in animal control and therefore does not take any action in such matters.  You are correct, in the past the City has contracted to remove problem ducks from one of its parks, but the City has not hired trappers to remove other problem animals. I can share with you that I understand your very real concerns with wild animals.  "In my neighborhood we had otters wipe out 15 domestic ducks in one weekend. It was a very bloody weekend. I asked for help from the experts and was told that otters are protected and we will not remove them from any area. I had the exact same concerns you have but the otters still come and go within our neighborhood as they please without any intervention from animal control.  "I guess we need to learn how to live with these resilient wild animals." Undated, from Drain to Gustafson:

"Thank you for your prompt reply. If you had done any research you would know that coyotes are not just a neighborhood problem. They are a county wide problem.

"There is not one neighborhood in Pinellas Park that has not had some coyote activity. It is time that the City of Pinellas Park address the invasion and over population of coyotes.

"I am still confused why you thought this matter should be turned over to animal control because in your letter you state that 'I had the exact same concerns you have but the otters still come and go within our neighborhood as they please without any intervention from animal control.' You were aware that Animal Control would do nothing.

"As you mentioned in your response 'in the past the City has contracted to remove problem ducks from one of its parks, but the City has not hired trappers to remove other problem animals.' I ask, why not? Are the ducks more of a threat than coyotes? I have yet to hear of a duck butchering a cat.

"When you compare otters to coyotes, you are comparing apples and oranges. Authorities say that otters are protected animals in Florida, but they can be killed if they destroy property.  Coyotes can be legally hunted all year long with guns, dogs, live traps, or snares, said Martin Main, University of Florida professor and coyote expert. A permit is required to use steel traps, to trap on another person's property, or to use a gun and light at night.

"Coyotes are considered to be nuisance animals. Otters are not.

"The coyote problem is serious and needs to be addressed by the city since the county will do nothing. It is the lassiez-faire attitude that we need to learn how to live with them that will lead to a tragedy. In Florida, the coyote has no natural enemy except for humans.  The local population of rabbits, cats, possums and raccoons has decreased. This fact can be witnessed in the Lloyd Tingler Nature Park. Now the coyotes will hunt larger prey."

Michelle Drain

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 11:22am]

    

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