UPDATE: Town is working with Coyote Watch Canada and others to investigate reports of an especially aggressive animal in the Virgil area.
The town is acknowledging there have been many coyote sightings in recent weeks, and some unusual and aggressive behaviour exhibited by at least one animal in the Virgil area.
If anyone finds themselves in an emergency situation, approached or cornered by an aggressive coyote, call 911 immediately, says CAO Marnie Cluckie.
The town has been working with Coyote Watch Canada, the police, a trapper, and others, monitoring and tracking coyotes this past weekend, says Cluckie. She is expecting a report from Coyote Watch this week.
“The best defence is not to habituate them,” she says — don’t feed them, put lids tightly on garbage cans, pick up any fallen fruit, and don’t allow bird seed, which attracts rodents and coyotes, to accumulate on the ground.
Also pick up small children and small pets if you see one, but don’t turn your back to run — back away.
Yell loudly, make lots of noise and throw something to scare them off, says Cluckie.
A few hypotheses have been put forward as to why there are more sightings this year, she says, including people feeding them, and with COVID-19 keeping people indoors, their boundaries are being expanded.
Mark Cherney is the first to say people should be encouraged to learn about co-existing with coyotes.
But his wife Carrie’s recent experience was one of those that can be considered unusual, and possibly one that requires some intervention, he suggests.
“If there is a problem, it needs to be taken care of,” he says.
They were outside last Thursday evening, when a coyote entered their Virgil backyard. Carrie saw it, called to Mark, and then as she turned to go up the steps into the house, the coyote grabbed the back of her leg.
It’s not the first time they’ve had one in the yard, but it’s the first time there has been a problem, he says.
Mark took her to the St. Catharines site of Niagara Health. Public health was called, and Carrie has started on the lengthy process of rabies injections, with eight needles to start with, and several more over the coming weeks.
She has a puncture wound on her leg, and she’s shaken up and a little nervous of going into their backyard, but otherwise she’s fine, says Mark.
He’s concerned about this particular coyote and its behaviour, which seems to him unusually aggressive, and was hoping to hear the town would be doing something about it, “before little children get hurt.”
Another report of a similar situation comes from grape farmer Jamie Slingerland. One of his seasonal workers was attacked Friday evening, sitting on porch steps where he lives, on “a grape farm a few hundred metres east of a Virgil urban subdivision.” The farm worker was talking on his phone about 8 p.m., says the grape grower, who learned of the situation Saturday morning and took him to see a doctor.
“The worker was shocked, as the attack was unprovoked.” He had only seen the animal at the last moment “as it lunged toward him, biting him on the front of his calf. He escaped by running into the house, and the animal then ran away. This was witnessed by a second worker.”
This coyote has no fear and is dangerous, says the grape farmer. “The authorities need to trap this animal and put it down. The farm workers are not feeding it. But we have been made aware that some urban people have been feeding it.”
Some people may not realize how danger a wild animal can be, especially to local children, he says.
“If a 50-year-old adult male can be attacked while sitting on the steps of his porch, no one is safe.”
Rabies can be a life-threatening virus once a human has been bitten by an infected animal, he says, although at this point it has not been confirmed that the animal is rabid. The farm worker is also now going through the regimen of rabies needles.
Slingerland says he fears for his grandchildren, and great-nieces and nephews who play in their yards a short distance away.
He recalls days gone by, when farmers, including his father and grandfather, would join hunt parties to clear bushes where skunks, foxes and coyotes lodge during the day.
“For over a 70-year period NOTL and the province had placed bounties on fox, then later coyotes, to protect the human population. This was not a public sporting event, but for community protection. Rabies used to kill local residents years ago. It is time for a coyote hunt to return. I would wish the public could realize that this is a serious public safety concern.”
Another report comes from Robert Alexander, the father of Cohen Alexander, about what he believes to be the same animal that has been seen in Virgil, and is known to have left a puncture wound in a local teen, Billy Pillitteri-Smith, who was attacked in the Virgil Sports Park last Monday, June 7. He too is going through the rabies regimen. The fourteen-year-old described the animal in the sports park as white (although not all white), and large, like a big German shepherd.
The following night Cohen, who was one of the boys in the sports park with Billy, had what looked to be the same coyote chase him and two other friends down Line 2, and then frighten some children playing outside their home on Line 2 and Annemarie Drive, says Robert.
“Parents in the area are very concerned,” he says.
It may be the same animal that picked up a small dog in another Virgil backyard, belonging to Timothy Tranter, and left a puncture wound in the dog’s back leg.
Rick Mills also called The Local to say his dog, a seven-year-old shizhou, was taken into their Virgil back yard “to do her business before bed. I was standing two paces beside her.”
While walking back to the house and calling her to follow, he heard a rustle from the side hedges, he says. “I looked back just in time to see a coyote (described exactly in the article about Billy), run at her and attack.” The yelp from Tia and yell from Mills chased the coyote away, he says. Tia was punctured on her side, and after an emergency visit to the veterinarian, she is healing, with a positive prognosis, “but for fear. She still won’t go into the backyard.”
Alexander goes out for a bike ride every night, and has seen several coyotes in recent days, including in the Virgil Sports Park. Since the incident with his son and other children, he’s been watching for that particular animal, hoping to get a photo of it. He hadn’t been successful as of Sunday. Although he’s seen about 15 coyotes in his hunt, he’s sure none of them are the animal that attacked Billy, and possibly others, and is hoping someone will have a photo to share. He’s been working with others trying to track down this animal, and a photo would be helpful, he says.
The Local has received a few photos, but they are not believed to be the aggressive animal seen in Virgil. There is one large coyote that has a lot of white and has been seen in the Old Town, but Alexander says he is sure it’s not the same one that is terrorizing people in Virgil neigbourhoods.
After receiving calls from concerned residents, town staff have recently set up a webpage at https://notl.com/coyotes and are “working closely with and deferring to the expertise of Coyote Watch Canada regarding appropriate next steps,” says community engagement coordinator Lauren Kruitbosch.
“The town understands there has been concern about coyotes in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” she says.
“Staff take these concerns very seriously and have taken several steps to investigate, including but not limited to reaching out to community partners for assistance such as Niagara Regional Police Service, Niagara Humane Society, municipal partners, Coyotes Watch Canada, and a trapper. Investigations are ongoing,” she said in an email Friday.
“In addition to working with expert partners to locate the coyote(s) and address the threat raised, a communications plan is underway.”
The town has also designed and launched notl.com/coyote-sighting-form to assist staff in tracking the general location of coyotes and their potential increase of activity throughout the town, says Kruitbosch. “The information provided through this form will be supplied to the appropriate authorities, as required.”
Information has also been posted to the town’s social media pages advising people of what to do in a coyote encounter, and signs to this effect should be up in various parks by now.
“Staff is working to respond efficiently and effectively to every concern raised.”
From the town’s website, with information from Coyote Watch Canada:
Co-existing with coyotes:
Coyote sightings are not uncommon in the Niagara Region. They have been a vital part of our ecosystem for many years. By applying common sense, preventative techniques, and being aware of the diversity of wildlife that we share our living spaces with, we can minimize human and wildlife conflict. When coyote sightings increase, many times these sightings are due to humans intentionally or unintentionally providing a food source. An overflowing bird feeder, mishandling of compost, and fallen fruit attract a diverse range of prey species such as rodents, squirrels, chipmunks, insects, which coyotes will utilize as food. Consider that the birds and small mammals that frequent bird feeder stations are potential prey food for other predator species
Please note that data collected through this form is used to assist Staff in tracking the general location of potential coyote sightings and any potential uptick in coyote presence in the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Town Staff will engage the proper wildlife authorities if necessary.
This form is not monitored in real-time. If you are in an emergency situation, please call 911.
What to do about a coyote that frequently visits your backyard:
Check your property for wildlife attractants.
Human indifference is not an appropriate response to a coyote getting comfortable around areas that people frequent. Never allow a coyote to linger or bed down near your home or business. Print and follow the Wildlife Proofing Quick Tips pdf available below.
Applying simple low-intensity hazing techniques will send a clear message to a coyote that they are not welcomed.
• Yelling in a firm voice while outdoors “Go away coyote!” banging pots, spraying a water hose (in warmer months), throwing objects towards but not at the coyote, using a shake can, popping open an umbrella can be effective deterrents to safely move a coyote away.
• Battery-operated flashlights, tape-recorded human noises, and ammonia-soaked rags may deter coyotes from entering your property.
If a coyote is near:
• Pick up small children and pets
• Never run from or turn your back on a coyote/domestic dog
• Wave your arms above your head
• Be BIG and LOUD! Yell “Go away!”
• Slowly back away
• Use hazing techniques such as shaking car keys, popping an umbrella, throwing an object in the direction of the coyote
• Always be prepared and aware of your surroundings when enjoying the outdoors. Be a good visitor and leave no trace. Carry out leftover food, garbage, and dog feces.
|Seasonal behaviour that may elevate coyote sightings Winter during mating periods (Jan-Feb), Spring during den selection/pup rearing (Mar-June), and Fall during the dispersal of pack members will also affect the number of sightings a resident observes a coyote. By promoting respect, compassion, and safety education throughout our community about these intelligent, adaptable keystone species, we can safely coexist with coyotes. Adhere to important By-Laws for the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, including the Animal Care and Control By-law, which prohibits feeding or attracting any animal or animals in such a manner or place as to cause material discomfort or annoyance to any neighbouring person or persons, and prohibits placing any food or water on any public or private property for the purpose of attracting or feeding animals. • Never feed coyotes. Our best defense is not to habituate them. We need to keep them wild and wary of people. This is the best way to protect our pets and ourselves. The few documented cases of coyote-inflicted wounds on humans occurred as a result of humans feeding a coyote. • Keep pet food and water bowls indoors. Pet food will attract coyotes to your yard. • Keep trash cans covered. • Pick ripened fruit, and clean all rotted fallen fruit off the ground. • Do not allow a large amount of wild bird seed to remain on your lawn. Birdseed not only attracts birds, but rabbits, squirrels, and rodents, which are prey for coyotes. • Keep pets under strict control. Coyotes are most active between the hours of dusk and dawn. Therefore, leash all dogs and accompany them for walks. Keep pets indoors at night or enclosed in kennels. • Owls, hawks, eagles, foxes, including coyotes, can prey on smaller pets such as cats and dogs. Accompany your pets outdoors after dusk, especially in backyards (unfenced and fenced) and on a leash, minimizes such encounters. • Cats may become prey for coyotes. Pet owners should protect pets and not let them roam. Our pets are at risk of many environmental dangers when they are not under our control. Coyotes may prey on small domestic animals as food and to eliminate a threat to their territory or pups. Domestic dogs can be considered competition for food items at locations where humans are feeding coyotes. • Keep cats indoors. Letting cats roam can actually draw coyotes into the area. • Keep chickens, rabbits and other small animals in covered enclosures, constructed with heavy mesh wire. Coyotes, raccoons, and weasels can break through chicken coop wire. • Neuter pets. Although a rare occurrence, coyotes may mate with domesticated dogs. • Do not approach coyotes. Avoid coyote dens, and do not interfere with pups, even if it appears the parents have abandoned them. Coyotes will do their best to avoid human contact but may attack humans when provoked, sick, or injured. • Teach children about wildlife and how to safely respond to coyotes (or dogs) nearby. • Respect, compassion, and education are common-sense tools that nurture safe and healthy human and wildlife families.|