Those who are following social media and the reports of coyotes in the Old Town will understand the gravity of the situation to residents.
Many are very fearful, and frustrated that more can’t be done to make them feel safe on their own streets. Others, as is expected online, are quick with their criticism, often directed at newcomers to town who they believe should learn to live with wildlife wandering through their neighbourhood.
Tina Clement was a relative newcomer to town when she attended a meeting at the community centre in 2019 to hear a presentation by Lesly Sampson of Coyote Watch Canada. Clement was worried about her little 15-pound Yorkie, Megan, then, and she still is. “I’m petrified,” she says. “She’s always been frightened of big dogs (happy dogs), never mind a big coyote that wants to attack her.”
Megan just turned 10 years old and is starting to have health issues, and Clement has been taking her to other neighbourhoods to walk safely, but “having to haul her around in a car three times a day to walk her outside of The Village” isn’t an ideal solution.
Clement has heard the story of the small dog that was picked up by a coyote while being walked in The Village — the dog was wearing a coat, and when the coyote shook it in its mouth, the little dog was shaken right out of its coat, and escaped to safety with its owner. It could easily have been Megan, says Clement. That dog was lucky, she adds, warning people to be cautious of dogs wearing collars they could slip out of if they’re being dragged to get away from a coyote.
Clement also reminds dog owners of a tip she learned at the community centre in 2019: do not use extension leashes. “You can’t reel them in as fast if you need your dog at your side pronto, plus these leashes have plastic handles that you could easily drop.” If you use a regular leash, she says, you can wrap the handle around your wrist.
She remembers other tips Lesley Sampson suggested that day, including opening an umbrella or a garbage bag, creating noise to scare off a coyote. Those are difficult if you have your hands full holding on to your dog, she said. She does carry a can of coins for noise, and wears a whistle around her neck, which she has used.
Other tips she has learned: “never turn your back on a coyote and run, walk backwards and hold your other hand high. Make yourself large. I did that in 2019 when I had my encounter.”
Also, yell as loud as you can, and carry an umbrella or a heavy stick to wave it around — she is seeing people in The Village now with umbrellas while walking their dogs
Clement joins many others who express concern about the coyotes becoming more brazen, and that not only dogs but a person, even a child, could be hurt. She knows there are people who don’t agree with removing coyotes, who feel there are other solutions, like learning to live with coyotes. But there are elderly people who enjoy walking but are too scared to go out, she says. “We’re being held hostage in our homes over this.”
In 2019, she said, neighbours believed they were dealing with one rogue coyote, but today, “people I know who have lived in The Village for 20 years can’t believe this is going on.”
The town has stepped up its involvement, councillors heard at Monday’s meeting. CAO Marnie Cluckie acknowledged “this is an incredibly stressful situation for families. It causes a lot of angst, and understandably so. It can be very frightening.” “We want to solve this problem as quickly as we possibly can,” she added.
But she also acknowledged, when questioned by Lord Mayor Betty Disero, the work that is being done today could take two seasons to accomplish its goals. The good news is, she said, “that other communities have also experienced this, and we know by taking some of these steps that you can solve the problem by working with the partners that we’re working with now.”
In addition to issuing more letters and information about coyotes through mail-outs, the town is using a coyote sighting form on its website to map where the coyotes are. That information is being given to the Lincoln County Humane Society, which is sending out patrols to look for them, and for food sources that might be attracting them, and if necessary, “they are able to intervene,” she said. Disero explained after the meeting that information about food sources identified by the LCHS can also be given to town staff to investigate. The town is posting more signs around the community, and has hand-delivered posters and letters in areas where there have been sightings, Cluckie said. The message again is “they are looking for food sources,” and to keep coyotes out of urban areas, it’s important to remove those food sources, including garbage, bird feeders, and leaving food out for feral cats, or any wildlife.”
Cluckie says staff are in the process of setting up a meeting with community partners such as Coyote Watch Canada, the Lincoln County Humane Society and the Minister of Natural Resources to explain how to address the situation, and how other municipalities have successfully handled it.
Disero thanked two town employees — she didn’t have their names — who assisted a woman at Hunter Road and Niagara Stone Road in an encounter with a coyote. “It was going after her groceries, and she was afraid,” said Disero. “Two staff members jumped out of their truck and scared away the coyote while she ran into her apartment building.” Disero also repeated the request not to put garbage out until the morning of pickup, not to put bird feeders out, or food for feral cats or any animals outside, “because all this attracts coyotes.”
She asked Cluckie to explain when someone sees a coyote and runs into the house to fill out a sighting form online,“what happens from that point?”
Cluckie explained the forms “are extremely helpful to us because we map out where we’re seeing the sightings, and that helps our partners to locate coyotes. They haven’t located the coyotes’ den yet, but by knowing where they are they can track them.”
Some people are notifying the town through emails, she said, but without the mapping element of the forms, it makes it difficult to find them. The town uses the mapping to help the Lincoln County Humane Society patrol neighbourhoods, she said. “In most cases the idea is to prevent the coyotes from coming back.”
Capturing and relocating them won’t work — legislation only allows them to be relocated up a a kilometre away, “and unfortunately the coyotes find their way back very quickly.” By instead identifying food sources, they can use “aversion control,” training the animals “to stay out of the areas they shouldn’t be in.”
“I’m concerned this is not a fast process,” said Disero. “I’m concerned someone is going to get hurt before we are able to train them and teach them not to come into the neighbourhoods.”
The solution, Cluckie repeated, is removing the food source, which is how other municipalities have seen success, such as Thorold, although it took two seasons to accomplish their goal.
“It sounds like we as humans need to be retrained a little,” said Coun. Clare Cameron. “It’s hard to break habits and change behaviour.”
Although the sighting forms are useful, in an emergency situation, call 911 and the NRP will respond. Lincoln County Humane Society staff will also come out quickly, Cluckie said. Disero said she’d noticed in her walks through parts of The Village that there are bird feeders on public property, and asked that they be removed. She also heard that there is a coyote who has been seen running with a chicken in his mouth, and asked if staff can find the owner and talk to them to see if coyotes can be stopped from getting hold of the chickens.
Disero also asked Cluckie to go back again to the Ministry of Natural Resources to have another conversation about relocating the animals. “It just seems that this is going to take too long,” she said, referring to the behavioural training that involves removing food sources.
Cluckie agreed to that, and also to again looking into wildlife reserves that might take the coyotes and their pups. Disero said she’s concerned about residents threatening coyotes with hockey sticks, “and that if we don’t do something there could be an incident where someone could get hurt, or a dog could get hurt.