Dog attacks blamed on coyote

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 6, 2018

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Dee Perry said she remembers letting her three dogs outside on her 3 1/2 acres of land on a cold Saturday morning at around 6 a.m. Jan. 20.

It was to her shock that she learned hours later that her silky terrier, Dante, had been bitten on his back and leg, and one of her other dogs, a 4-pound Yorkshire terrier named Seamus, was missing. She found out later that evening that Seamus had been killed. She spotted a coyote and called 911.

She blames the pet attacks on the coyote.

“I didn’t know we had a coyote problem because nobody has warned us,” she said. “Later that evening, my husband heard a few of them howling back and forth to each other.”

Perry, who lives near Utica Road and Van Dyke Avenue in Sterling Heights, said she called Sterling Heights Animal Control and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to find out how to lawfully stop coyote problems.

While she said animal control has taken an official incident report, the only recommended course of action she has heard so far is to hire a company to deal with the wildlife.

“When I called the police to tell them that coyotes were in my front yard, the police officer told me we live in their habitat,” she said. “Do the coyotes pay my property taxes or do the coyotes pay (police) wages?”

Perry said she would be fine with someone trapping or killing the wild animals that go on her property, but she wants to make sure it would be done in a legal way.

“I got quite a few men who want to come to my property and take care of my situation,” she said. “The only thing that’s holding me back is getting a definitive answer from the city. I don’t want anyone to get in trouble. I’m a law-abiding citizen.”

According to the Sterling Heights Code of Ordinances, it’s normally illegal for people to hunt or pursue wildlife within city limits with a gun, explosive, bow, slingshot or other “potentially dangerous” instrument. Ensnaring wildlife with trapping devices or using poison or chemical bait to kill them are also normally banned.

But an exception exists for “any property owner or his or her designated agent who hunts or traps on his or her own private property to destroy or control animals causing damage to the property; the use of a lawful exterminator is also permitted as required.”

That section also says only “live traps,” which catch but don’t harm the trapped animal, may be used under that exception. 

According to Sterling Heights Police Lt. Mario Bastianelli, coyotes “have been seen at almost every corner of the city,” particularly wooded areas, but the public is nevertheless “very safe.”

Bastianelli said in an email that no one has ever reported a coyote attacking a human in the state, though sometimes unattended small dogs have been attacked.

“The Sterling Heights police would like to remind the public that there is an ordinance that dogs must be on a leash in public places,” he said. “Having the animals on a leash and attended would help minimize any chance of their animals being attacked by a coyote.”

The Michigan DNR’s website describes coyotes as often yellowish gray, with erect ears and the general proportions of a German shepherd. The site urges the public to never feed, go near or touch the animals.

According to Holly Vaughn, wildlife communications coordinator for the Michigan DNR, coyotes tend to be more visible from January until around March or April.

“This is the mating season, so individuals are sort of claiming their territory and looking for mates and setting up dens,” she said.

Vaughn said that many people are surprised to spot coyotes in urban or suburban environments, but she said the animals can be found roaming everywhere in metro Detroit, including Sterling Heights and Warren. Such settings are rich with coyote food sources — such as mice, rabbits and squirrels — and areas near major power lines, railroad tracks, rivers or county drains can also be prime hunting areas, she explained.

Vaughn said coyotes are usually nocturnal, but they can be spotted during the day around this time of year. She said they are not dangerous to humans, but they can be dangerous to small pets, such as cats and dogs that weigh 30 pounds or less. Those pets should be kept indoors as much as possible and should only be let outside when supervised, preferably with a leash, she said.

“Another good thing to remember is that putting trash out the night before can be attractive to coyotes,” she said, adding that it’s best to take out the trash the morning of pickup.

Vaughn encouraged homeowners to contact a nuisance control company to trap or otherwise mitigate any coyote-related problems on their property.

For more information about the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr. Sterling Heights’ coyote page can be found at www.sterling-heights.net/315/Coyote-Facts.