Jim Hall had heard the rumors. His neighbors in Winding Walk were hearing eerie howls in the evening outside their homes. Sometimes they would catch a chorus of yips.
Driving home one night after picking his son up from a friend's house, Hall confirmed their suspicions. Three coyotes sat on the sidewalk along Lemmon Street. Before they could disappear into the nearby woods, he snapped a quick picture of one with his cell phone and forwarded the proof to the homeowner's association.
"I have small children," said Hall, who wasn't keen on sharing the neighborhood with the wild canines. "Those things could take down a deer."
Twenty-five years ago there were no coyotes in North Carolina. Now, not only do they exist in the state, their population is increasing and spreading into suburban, even urban settings.
"They just kind of exploded," said Dr. Jon Shaw, a biologist for North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. "They're not a native animal to North Carolina, but they're doing very well because they adapt very well to different types of habitats. They are taking advantage of what's here."
How they came in the first place, said Shaw, is a combination of factors. A natural progression of the packs from other states was helped along by the illegal transporting of the animals for hunting purposes.
There is no closed season or bag limit for hunting coyotes in the state. And, although fur prices have dropped in the last years as the coyote population increases, a better profit can be made from selling live animals to fox pens. "You can get up to $125 for a coyote. That's if they're good and healthy," said Tim Hill, a trapper listed with the NCWRC.
Fox pens are fenced-in wildlife enclosures used for the training of hunting dogs. Although controversial and outlawed in many states, the practice is legal in North Carolina.
Hill, who was called in by the Winding Walk HOA to catch the coyotes, prefers to trap the animals only when they become a nuisance. The six soft catch traps he set around the neighborhood will hold the animals, but not harm them like standard steel traps. "I'm just not into killing something just to kill it," he said.
Shaw and Hill both say coyotes typically are not aggressive to people, even small children. They will attack domestic animals.
The best advice if you see one is to let the animal be. "Don't try to feed it or get close to it," said Shaw. "Just kind of observe it at a distance and most of the time they'll take off running."
Still, many feel uneasy coexisting with the wild animals in their neighborhoods.
Years ago, Jennifer Pinion stepped out of her Weddington Woods home for an evening walk with her greyhounds when a neighbor spotted two coyotes in the cul-de-sac.
Luring them into a screen porch with a steak, the neighbors flicked on the light and studied the animals while waiting for animal control.
"They were not aggressive. They were not growling at us," said Pinion, surprised. "They were almost like they had been around this area long enough."
While wildlife officials do not advise luring coyotes, third- and- fourth generation coyotes don't have the same innate fear of humans as earlier relatives, said Shaw.
No population estimates on coyotes are conducted at this point, but they are known to exist in all counties within the state, with no chance of them disappearing anytime soon.
"We were actually one of the last Southeastern states to have coyotes," he said. "We didn't want them in North Carolina."