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An increase of lost dog and cat posters have appeared on street poles in the last few months in the Westminster area, pleading for other neighbors to be aware of any sightings of a beloved pet.
Each time Sally Weinstock and Dodie Carlson see those posters, their hearts break just a little more for the owners, as they’re almost positive they’re not coming back.
“You’re not getting them back,” Weinstock told a group of Westminster residents Feb. 1. “They were a coyote’s meal.”
Coyotes have always been in the city, but reports of conflicts with both pets and their owners are on the rise, according to a meeting hosted by the Westminster Open Space Management and the State of Colorado District Wildlife Management.
Residential areas provide a habitat for coyotes that include plentiful food sources such as garbage, pet food, compost piles, bird seed and small animals like rabbits, squirrels - and in more tragic cases, cats and dogs.
Westminster Open Space Manager Rod Larsen said that coyotes are extremely intelligent and adaptable creatures that have learned to not just exist, but thrive in urban areas. Because of many encounters with humans who either turn and walk the other direction or don’t scare away the coyotes, the animals have become used to the idea that humans are not there to harm them.
“We need to instill the fear of humans back into coyotes,” Larsen said. “They have lost that fear of humans from seeing us on a daily basis and having no negative contact with us. Our first instinct is to be wary of them and be small and timid and run away. That teaches the animals that we are safe. They’re not threatened. We should be doing the exact opposite. We need to be making a bold presence, be big and loud, throw rocks and scare them from our yards.”
Weinstock and Carlson said the increase of coyotes is heard more than seen. Nearly every night, a cacophony of howls and unpleasant screeching wails can be heard around them, terrifying the dogs and making it hard to get good rest.
State wildlife laws are somewhat strict on the management of coyotes, not allowing for the relocation of coyotes from one habitat to another, while animal control is not able to take the coyote if and when it is trapped on residential property.
Homeowners are legally allowed to kill a coyote if it is threatening the lives of humans or domestic pets on the homeowner’s property or inflicting damage to the resources on the property. However, some counties and cities prevent the use of firearms to do so. In those cases, the coyotes would need to be live trapped and a service would then need to be called to euthanize the animal, Larsen said.
In cases of wide population control, the coyotes seem to be able to withstand and adapt to all extermination attempts that have been tried in other areas.
“Coyotes have the unique ability to feel its population decreasing, and when they feel that, they will produce more offspring,” District Wildlife Manager Jordan Likes said. “They are one of the few population groups that can do that.”
The current season is the mating and birthing season for coyotes, with the majority of births expected to occur in March, where an even greater increase in the coyote population is expected.
Likes and Larson said the best way to instill fear back into the coyote population is for a widespread and repeated series of hazing against coyotes.
Some of the basic ways this can be done include making yourself as big and loud as possible when seeing a coyote, throwing rocks at the animal and continuing the intimidation until the coyote retreats.
Other effective means of hazing include filling an aluminum can full of coins and shaking it violently to create a large amount of noise, spraying ammonia around the borders of the property, as animals in general and coyotes in particular despise the smell of the chemical, Likes said. Bear spray and mace is another effective solution, but must be used cautiously if your own dog is nearby.
Homeowners should also make their properties less appealing to coyotes by keeping trash inside bins, sometimes double-bagged to reduce the smell, cleaning barbecue grills, trimming vegetation, keeping pet food inside, cleaning up any birdseed or bird baths and securing any livestock with wildlife-proof fencing with a secured top.
While coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare, they can happen, usually if the person is between the coyote and its prey, in many cases, a dog on a leash. Larsen and Likes said that as the community continues its widespread hazing, that the boldness of coyotes should diminish.
Legacy Ridge highway
Weinstock and Carlson said some of the areas with the largest concentration of coyote dens seem to be in the area around Standley Lake - especially the northeast side of the lake, between 86th Parkway and 100th Avenue, and the King’s Mill neighborhood. Carlson also says coyotes seem to use Legacy Ridge Golf Course on 104th and Sheridan as a sort of highway to other areas.
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