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Coyotes in the Suburbs Cause Concerns for Pet Owners

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- "That`s a coyote in our backyard. He`s not scared of me either," said Don Rhoten of Lindren Drive in West Des Moines, as he recorded video of a coyote in his backyard. The video shows a coyote in close proximity to an area where children play.

Pete Jensen lives next door to Rhoten, and has seen the video. “I was a little surprised at how unalarmed and unafraid of the people the coyotes were," said Jensen. "That was about a month ago, in the middle of the afternoon, and they had wandered from the railroad right of way into his backyard and they knew he was there and they just weren’t at all concerned and they just meandered back into the grass," said Jensen. Jensen didn't have to watch a video from his next door neighbor to know about the presence of coyotes. He and his wife learned about that first hand a couple months ago. "My wife, we have two small dogs, and my wife heard the dogs barking one morning and when she went outside, there was a small coyote in the railroad right of way behind, and our dogs were barking at it and the coyote didn’t do anything. It wasn’t aggressive, didn’t approach them, but she got the dogs in the house and that was the first we knew about it," said Jensen.

Even though nothing happened, precautions were taken. "Since we`ve seen the coyotes, we now have a high intensity flashlight so when we let them out at night, we have an invisible fence, but of course that doesn`t keep the coyotes out, but there haven’t been any problems yet, but we do use that light to check the area, make sure they aren’t around and hopefully scare them off if they are," said Jensen.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, coyotes "commonly eat everything from fruit, grass and insects to deer, trash and pet food. still, coyotes do seem to enjoy meat. they will commonly hunt rabbits, mice, and other small mammals, which helps control small pest populations..."

Tim Orness also lives on Linden Drive and says he and his wife Deb have noticed lots of activity in his backyard. “About a month ago, we come out and all the sides tore up and I called Hubbell homes and they said they think it’s a 'coon or something...and they tore up probably a hundred yards of grass," said Orness. "So, they put traps out and they caught them and released them somewhere else, but they caught three coons, a skunk,  and a possum, but then you hear all kinds of stuff out along this railroad track," said Orness.

Children in the neighborhood walk along the tracks and go to a nearby pond to try and catch frogs. The kids say they've seen dead baby rabbits on the ground, but haven't yet seen any coyotes. Meanwhile, neighborhood parents like Serhat Tekinalp, who lives on 90th Street, says coyotes are not their number one concern. “Neighborhood traffic is probably more dangerous than coyotes. Sometimes people just speed up. They’re not careful," said Tekinalp. "We try to teach kids...how to deal with cars, but maybe we`ll have to...teach them how to deal with coyotes," said Tekinalp.

The following information on urban coyotes was provided by Todd Gosselink, PhD, Wildlife Biologist, Red Rock Wildlife Unit, Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

"Coyotes and red foxes can be found in urban areas throughout the Midwest.  Red foxes are more common in urban areas than coyotes, but not uncommon to see coyotes in urban areas, especially near rural areas or larger parcels of undeveloped within urban areas (parks, river corridors, woodlots).  They are primarily using urban areas due to a major food source in their diets – cottontail rabbits.  I studied both urban coyotes and red foxes in Champaign IL, radio tagging the animals so we could track their movements.  I watched them catch rabbit after rabbit in town, running into yards at night time.  Most residents had no idea they were around, since they were mostly active at night (especially after midnight when city life calms down).

It would be extremely rare for coyotes and foxes to attack people.  Residents should be cautious of any wild animal that would approach a person, since this could be a sign of rabies.  Rabies is very rare in coyotes and foxes, but is definitely a human disease concern. Urban foxes and coyotes do get used to humans in urban areas, and often don’t appear shy, but they still should not approach people at a close distance (unless a person is trying to feed them).  Since they are wild animals, we encourage the public not to approach them or try to catch them, but rather contact your local wildlife biologist or conservation officer.

One concern of coyotes in urban areas would be small pets.  Coyotes are known to attack very small dogs, and cats.  They view these as prey.  If one has known coyotes near their residence, caution should be made in leaving small dogs in a yard at night alone.  Cats often can escape by climbing trees.  Foxes do not cause this concern, since they are smaller, and not larger than a cat in weight.

If you have a rabbit problem in a garden and yard, foxes and coyotes are great to have around to control rabbit.  Mice are another major prey for coyotes and foxes, so they help in rodent control in both urban areas and rural areas."