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Coyotes in North Pinellas are getting more aggressive

EAST LAKE

Danielle Kelly had been searching for her teacup Pomeranian Foxy Lady for hours when golfers summoned her to the 14th hole at the East Lake Woodlands North golf course.

There she found two paws, a fluff of fur and a piece of tail, the apparent victim of a hungry coyote. Kelly picked up the paws and held on to them for two days.

"That was just probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me so far," said Kelly, 28, a paralegal.

Most likely, authorities say, the worst is yet to come.

The increase in aggressiveness among North Pinellas coyotes is exactly what authorities would expect from a predator that has lived for generations in close proximity to people. Based on what happened in Dunedin about four years ago and in South Florida last year, this is what East Lake can expect next:

Coyotes snatching dogs right off leashes, crashing through lanai screens to grab cats by the throat, people mauled trying to protect their pets.

Already, residents have armed themselves with sticks, golf clubs, a stun gun and, in at least one case, a cane that transforms into a sword.

• • •

Foxy Lady is one of at least two pet dogs killed in East Lake in recent months. Earlier this month, a West Highland white terrier barely survived an attack and two coyotes chased a woman with two Huskies to her door.

As she searched for Foxy Lady, Kelly saw five or six coyotes, three or four together at one point.

Kelly's mother had let the 7- or 8-pound dog out in the front yard of their house at 2002 Muirfield Way the morning of Jan. 12, as they had for 11 years. In a flash, the dog was gone.

"It was so fast," Kelly said. "I tell everybody: Use a leash and keep it short."

Roberta Pawlowski, nearby in the Turtle Creek subdivision of East Lake Woodlands, had also seen coyotes at one time or another.

"You get so complacent, you don't even think about it," she said.

On a cold morning in January, her husband left Rocky in the front yard while he went back for a jacket and shoes. Soon, he was back in the house telling his wife their 15-year-old Jack Russell terrier was gone.

Remembering the coyotes, she ran out in the street in her nightgown. There were two and in its mouth, one had Rocky.

"He was obviously dead," Pawlowski said. "That's the hardest thing, just getting rid of that image."

In his younger days, Rocky would have put up quite a fight, she said.

Last week, a dog in Odessa survived a scuffle with a coyote, but the coyote scratched the person who got between it and the dog. Here's how officials at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recount the event:

Lauren Sherwood, 18, was on the ground planting flowers at a small horse farm and an Australian shepherd mix was on the ground near her when a coyote went after the dog. The animals started to fight, then Sherwood stood up and kicked the coyote and it ran off into the woods.

She was scratched and her aunt, a nurse, treated her scratches. The Fish and Wildlife Commission recommended rabies shots, but officials say there have been no recent reports of rabies in the area and Sherwood decided to forego any further medical treatment.

• • •

In Southwest Florida last year, according to reports in the Naples Daily News, three coyotes were trapped after they snatched dogs on leashes and went through lanai screens to kill cats.

Two residents required rabies shots: a man who came in contact with a coyote's saliva and a woman who was scratched while defending her dachshund, according to Breanne Strepina, a wildlife biologist with the Southwest region of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The woman's mistake was falling on the dog to protect it, Strepina said. It's better to pick up your dog and stand tall when confronted by a coyote.

Last week, Strepina said she gave information on living with coyotes to the East Lake Woodlands homeowners association. She said she has heard some residents there put corn out to attract deer and that may be attracting coyotes, too.

"It's important that people change their behavior if they want an animal to change its behavior," she said.

Strepina also gave the homeowners association the name of an experienced trapper, in case the situation gets worse.

When is it time to call a trapper?

When coyotes start snatching pets with no fear for the human holding the leash, she said, they are getting aggressive. Until then, education is the best approach.

Dunedin faced a coyote uprising in 2005 in early summer, the time of year when coyotes need food for their pups. They went after a 70-pound German shorthaired pointer, threatened a woman walking dogs and killed a small dog.

The county responded with an education campaign, and the problem died down.

A few simple actions can prevent pet loss and injuries to residents who come between coyotes and their pets, said Welch Agnew, director of veterinary services at Pinellas County Animal Services.

Remove all outdoor food sources and keep small pets close on a leash when outside. Stand tall when you encounter a coyote, make it feel unwelcome with loud noises or a water from a hose and pick up small pets.

"Then they will do like they did in Dunedin," said Agnew, "and slink back into the woods."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.



Tips to prevent

pet loss and injuries to residents

1 Remove all outdoor food sources.

2 Keep small pets close on leash when outside.

3 Stand tall when you encounter a coyote. Make it feel unwelcome with loud noises or a water from a hose and pick up small pets.

Fast facts

Keep in mind, coyotes:

• Are good swimmers and can run up to 40 mph.

• Can snatch a pet running off leash before your jaw drops and also can bite through extended retractable leashes.

• Are skillful hunters, sometimes working in pairs; most active from dusk to dawn.

• Do not see screens as boundaries and often grab pets that walk near woods.

• Are attracted to easy food sources, but can eat just about anything, so they don't need humans to feed them.

• Range throughout Florida and the United States.

For help

Wildlife Alert Hot line: To report an attack, call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement at (888) 404-3922

Technical information: Call (863) 648-3200 and ask for Breanne Strepina, an FWC wildlife biologist.

Sources: www.nationalgeographic.com, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Pinellas County

Coyotes in North Pinellas are getting more aggressive 03/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 1:37pm]

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