by JONATHAN YORK
On certain fall nights you could see the coyotes prancing on the neighbor’s lawn. This was off Burleson Street near City Lights Drive in Kyle. They yipped and howled in the darkness some nights, and some other nights they were quiet.
Once a lone coyote crossed the backyard, stopped and looked back. It stood that way for a while; just a wisp of gray animal over the dark yellow of the grass. Make a move or a noise, though, and it would respond, getting farther away. Then it was gone.
Beth Smith, the Pct. 2 justice of the peace, was a little surprised to find coyotes running across FM 1626 at Kohler’s Crossing in broad daylight. “It was certainly where you wouldn’t expect them, in those open fields,” she said. “I’ve seen them run across the street on Post Road, near San Marcos. … You’ve got to watch for them like you watch for deer.”
And in late December she sent an alert out to neighbors on her e-mail list. “They are everywhere, and it seems to be getting to be an increasing problem,” she wrote. “They are not frightened by neighborhoods or homes.” She forwarded a note from a man in the Meadow Woods subdivision who wrote that two cats in his neighborhood had gone missing and that two coyotes had appeared late one night in his front yard.
“Coyotes are a cosmopolitan species,” said Kelly Bender, a Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist. “They are more places than you might expect. They are very good at hiding.”
In the wild, they live in Panama and Canada and just about everywhere in between.
But they also live in cities, even in big ones. In 2006 a year-old coyote eluded the New York police for two days as it dodged and ran through Central Park. More coyotes have been seen in New York since then, and others have been spotted in Los Angeles and Chicago, among many other places. In a news release, one Ohio State University researcher said, “We couldn’t find an area in Chicago where there weren’t coyotes.”
Hays County is considerably less dense than Chicago. The pastures, lawns and woods allow plenty of room for a smart, scrappy animal to roam and to hunt. As the county develops, and more of that space fills up with buildings, we might be rubbing elbows with a lot more coyotes.
“In general, people in Hays County are talking about animals coming closer,” said Jennie Harper, president of the Meadow Woods property owners’ association. She noted that there had been another sighting in her neighborhood, but she had not see the coyotes.
So what do you do if one turns up in your backyard?
“They are wild animals, and they do merit some respect as a wild animal,” said Bender, the biologist. Because coyotes prey on whatever is smaller than them, she advises people to keep cats indoors and to walk small dogs on a leash. “There is really close to zero threat from a coyote to your dog on a leash,” she said.
Securing the lid to your garbage can help keep coyotes off. That’s not because they get in the trash, but because they eat rats and opossums that get in the trash.
And where attacks on humans are concerned, “as far as what the real danger is, it’s very very low,” Bender said. Domesticated dogs attack people much more often than coyotes do.
Bender suggests keeping track of when you see coyotes and how they respond to you. If they’re roaming at night and seem afraid of people, there’s no reason to worry. That’s normal coyote behavior. But if they show up in the daytime and seem aggressive – or unafraid – it might be a matter for animal control.
“You want to make noise, you want to distract the animal or scare the animal, and you want to get them gone,” she said.