South Charlotte

Coyote sightings, attacks continue

Another wave of coyote sightings and a recent attack in south Charlotte have left more pet owners asking for state or local officials to step in.

Officials offer advice but firmly reiterate: there's little they can do.

Gloria Vaca, who lives in Harrison Woods, a small neighborhood off Alexander Road, was recently taking her 16-pound bichon frise and 65-pound labradoodle out.

It was around 6 p.m. and both dogs were on leashes. As soon as she stepped out of the garage, Vaca saw a coyote sweep in and attack her bichon frise named Paco.

The coyote sank its teeth two inches deep, puncturing the muscle in Paco's belly and exposing a nerve.

"It just happened in a second," said Vaca. "I started screaming. I saw Paco kind of rolled into the garage."

Vaca said her labradoodle, Pancho, barked and cried, eventually scaring off the coyote.

Paco had to undergo surgery and is now recovering with stitches and morphine.

This wasn't her first run-in with local coyotes. Vaca said her husband has been out at night and seen coyotes crossing the street.

A couple of months ago, the couple even heard their neighbor shouting "Help!" as he tried to get someone's attention. There were three coyotes around him.

"We live in a very suburban area with lots of houses, and everybody has little kids and dogs," said Vaca. "I never thought they (coyotes) would be so brazen as to come right to our garage."

Jonathan Shaw, a biologist for North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, said it's rare for a coyote to attack a dog on a leash.

But, he added, as coyotes adapt to the urban landscape, they'll become less fearful of humans.

Charlotteans started seeing coyotes for the first time about 10 years ago, when the population began converging on the Carolinas. Coyotes used to be concentrated predominantly in the Midwest region of the U.S.

They tend to migrate to large tracts of land, greenways, nature preserves, large parks and creeks. However, coyotes are smart and adaptable and can live anywhere within the county.

As top-level predators in the area, coyotes eat anything they can catch or get a hold of, which includes pet food, trash, opossums, chipmunks, raccoons and the like.

Because of that, coyotes are actually becoming an important part of our ecosystem, Shaw said.

Vaca said the recent coyote attack has made her scared for her young grandchildren. But Shaw said that doesn't need to be a concern.

Coyotes in the Carolinas average about 30 pounds, and even in the Midwest, where larger coyotes have been around for hundreds of years, attacks on humans have very rarely occurred.

However, they could be an issue for folks with small dogs and cats.

For months, people all over the greater Charlotte area have been complaining about coyote sightings. A number of cats have gone missing in neighborhoods along McAlpine Greenway, where a significant coyote population has moved in.

Says Vaca: "I called the state, called animal control; they said 'I know. They are everywhere...There's not a cat left in Bellemeade (a nearby neighborhood).' It's like they're really alarmed (and there's) just nothing to do. "

Some folks in south Charlotte have seen coyotes walking in their yards, jumping their fences.

In October, a rabid coyote attacked a dog in Cameron Woods, which prompted Animal Care and Control to hire trappers. They caught the rabid coyote on Carmel Forest Drive.

The coyote situation is a case of tricky jurisdiction.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Animal Care and Control doesn't have the jurisdiction, equipment or licenses to trap coyotes. And only if there is evidence of rabies can they step in and hire a trapper.

That was the case in Cameron Wood.

After the incident, local and state authorities met with neighbors. In a nutshell their message was: The coyote is here to stay. Be cautious and use foresight with your pets, and - in the event of an attack - be sure to file a report with Animal Care and Control. That way, if there is evidence of rabies, they can move forward.

"I know people are scared," said Animal Care and Control's public information specialist, Melissa Knicely. "I get it. There are coyotes in my backyard. I am super, super cautious with my dogs."

On the preventative side, Knicely said pet owners must keep their pets' rabies vaccines updated.

"That's going to protect that animal (if it) gets attacked," she said.

And if there's an ongoing problem with a nonrabid coyote: "We encourage those consider hiring a trapper," said Shaw.

A list of reputable trappers is listed on the N.C. Wildlife Association's website:

Shaw, who spoke at the public meeting after the Cameron Woods attack, said that even if the state wanted to get rid of coyotes completely, it wouldn't be possible.

"There's no way to take on that kind of task," he said. "If we paid every trapper in the state and put a bounty out on coyotes, it still wouldn't get rid of the coyote."