After coyote attack, East Lake neighborhood on edge

EAST LAKE

Barry, a 7-year-old West Highland white terrier, is only 20 pounds of dog. But he takes protecting his home from wildlife in the adjoining Brooker Creek Preserve seriously.

Two years ago, Barry got into it with a pygmy rattlesnake and survived.

On Monday, a coyote nearly got the best of him.

The coyote bit him repeatedly on his neck, back and groin. His survival was in doubt for a few days, but he's back home now after several days of veterinary treatment.

"The first day, it was pretty scary — we didn't think he was going to make it," said Joanne Dickson, 48, who lives about 2 miles up East Lake Woodlands Parkway from Tampa Road.

The veterinarian said "the coyote got him real good," she said. "It's a miracle he's alive."

In Barry's East Lake Woodlands neighborhood, encounters with the wily coyotes are escalating to the point that residents are carrying big sticks and golf clubs when they walk their dogs.

"If you get here about 8 a.m., bring a weapon," said Fred Hollick.

A coyote killed a dog in the subdivision last year, said Bernadette Massaro, manager of the East Lake Woodlands master homeowners association. On the association's Web site, www.eastlakewoodlands.com, she warns homeowners to keep small pets and all food indoors.

The coyotes are becoming more brazen, residents say.

Cathy Deeb gets up early and walks her three dogs before dawn. Coyotes are especially active around dusk and dawn.

A month ago, a coyote walked right up to her and her 15-pound bichon frise, Zach, 10. The dog wagged its tail and would have gone off with the coyote, she said, which is typical of the breed.

"They like everybody and think everybody is their friend," she said.

But Deeb and her husband have a house in Lake Tahoe, and a resident there told her coyotes will lure a dog to the woods where another coyote waits to attack.

"Stand up to them, don't act like you're afraid," the woman told her. So she held her dog close, yelled at the coyote and it ran away.

But Thursday, two coyotes would not back down.

Deeb was walking her two huskies — Tehya, 4, and Brooke, 5 — when two coyotes came over a bank and chased them to her door. She was carrying a big stick that her husband had made her for scaring off roaming alligators. She waved the stick and yelled at the predators, to no avail.

"They were really brazen," she said, but she got her dogs inside.

"I don't think they were going for human life," she said. "They were going for these other two dogs and that surprised me."

The dogs and the coyotes were roughly the same size, she said, but domesticated dogs would be no match for coyotes. She's thinking about alternative weapons: maybe a cap pistol or a water jet gun.

She has heard a neighbor may be attracting the animals by feeding them.

• • •

Female coyotes are particularly hungry this time of year, when they may be expecting an average of six pups. By summer, the pups will be hungry, too, and there are only so many marsh rabbits to go around.

Rob Whitener, 68, lives near the East Lake Woodlands South golf course. He sees a big male coyote crossing the course and has seen a mother and pups in his yard. Originally from East Texas, he's seen a lot of coyotes.

"They are terrific hunters," he said, often working in pairs. "If you've got a litter of puppies in your back yard and coyotes are around, you're going to be missing some puppies."

While one distracts the mother, he said, the other comes from behind to snatch her puppies.

A few years ago, before the county eliminated the position, urban wildlife officer Rick Stahl said residents must learn to live with the highly adaptable and intelligent coyote — mainly because there is no choice. Even when authorities go all out to eliminate them, they bounce back.

• • •

On Monday, an electric fence kept Barry from leaving his front yard, but it didn't stop a coyote.

Dickson said she had just returned from an errand about 8 a.m. She opened the garage door and called for her two dogs. Mickey, a Scottish terrier, came running — but not Barry.

Barry had limped into the garage when it opened and she found him there. He was bleeding, his ear ripped, his collar gone, with dirty footprints on his back.

As Dickson rushed to get him to the vet, a neighbor said she had just seen a coyote running between their houses.

Kathy Hollick was walking Amy, her Maltese poodle.

Dr. Patrick Hafner, the veterinarian who worked on Barry at the Animal Hospital of Dunedin, told Dickson the coyote likely went for the neck and shook him, trying to kill him.

After nearly three days on antibiotics, Barry is home and the prognosis for recovery is good, Dickson said.

But the recent incidents worry neighbors like Hollick that more serious problems may be ahead, even though county officials say they have no record or recollection of a coyote biting a human here.

"Joanne's dog got attacked 40 feet from the (elementary) school bus stop," Hollick said. "I don't trust them."

Times photographer Jim Damaske contributed to this report. Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Coyote facts

Size: 24 to 37 pounds when full-grown

Range: Canis latrans is resident throughout Pinellas

Safety tips

• Keep small pets indoors (coyotes are approaching larger pets, too, in East Lake Woodlands).

• Never feed coyotes or leave pet food outside. Keep bird feeders out of reach and secure trash cans.

• Keep them wild and shy of humans. Clang pots, spray water to frighten them away.

• Protect livestock and pets with fences at least 6 feet tall, dug into the ground at least 6 inches. Clear brush around the home.

• Officials don't recall that a coyote has ever attacked a child in the county, but keep watch.

After coyote attack, East Lake neighborhood on edge 03/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 8:51am]

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