Words by Samantha Karam & Kellie nock
Sitting in her room at night, Kent resident Rachel Gundlach hears the howls of a pack of coyotes. Her cocker spaniel, Fuji, sits on her lap, staring out the window, barking at the sound.
Gundlach, who has lived in Kent all her life, has experience with the coyotes. She lives in a rural area, close to a coyote den. With numerous pets (cats, dogs, horses), coyotes have always been present in the back of her mind.
“I hear them howling at night, almost every night,” Gundlach said. “Whereas before, I didn’t really notice it as much.”
While coyotes are not native to Ohio, they have populated nearly the entire state. While many species do not adapt well with habitat change, coyotes are versatile and prefer to live in urban and suburban areas, such as Kent.
“It’s easier to explain where coyotes don’t live and what coyotes are not willing to eat, than to say where they are,” Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Wildlife Communication Specialist Jamey Emmert said.
Emmert says that coyotes have adaptable diets and survivability, making them a versatile species. They feed on rodents, birds, discarded pet food, among other things. While it is unusual for them to go after pets, it has happened in the past.
Ronald Gardner, one of two animal control officers for the Kent Police Dept., said officers aren’t trained for how to handle wild animals. Kent’s animal control unit is responsible for handling domestic animals like cats and dogs. Gardner’s job mainly includes trapping feral cats and catching stray or lost dogs then bringing them to the pound.
There is a class offered through the state of Ohio that educates officers on how to handle coyotes, but Gardner hasn’t taken it.
“If a person had a (coyote) problem,” Gardner said. “They would have to call a professional trapper.”
The police department has a list of six licensed trappers they have contact information for if anyone has a coyote issue.
None of the trappers could be reached for a comment.
Gardner said the coyote problem has gained attention over the years because the animals are adaptive to the environment and the species isn’t going down in numbers due to factors like hunting and loss of habitat that are claiming other species.
However, Gardner said coyotes aren’t an issue in Kent.
“I don’t’ think they’re as big a problem as the local people are saying,” Gardner said. “We haven’t had calls or gone out and found any evidence of (coyotes causing issues). ”
However, Emmert thinks that the larger concern is elsewhere.
“Coyotes are very intelligent animals,” Emmert said. “And as a result, they’re very curious.”
Coyotes are drawn to activity such as someone doing lawn work, or someone playing with their pet in the yard. Emmert said that while coyotes may confuse smaller dogs and cats, they are never actively looking for domestic prey.
“Dogs tend to be very territorial in protecting their space, protecting their yard, and they may chase after the coyote,” Emmert said. “So sometimes it’s not necessarily the coyote pursuing the domestic dog, as it is, the dog pursuing the coyote…”
Whether or not the coyote runs or stands it ground, pet-owners should be aware that keeping the dog contained can keep the dog safe.
Cats are smaller, and can easily be mistaken for prey. As many cats roam outdoors, pet owners should be cautious about letting their cats stay out overnight, as coyotes hunt nocturnally.
Most coyotes hunt close to their den, and if they have pups, tend to be more aggressive in that area. Females are typically more aggressive than males, but often the gender is hard to determine on first glance. Aggressiveness is amplified in the breeding/rearing season, which takes place from late winter to early spring.
To protect pets, the Ohio Division of Wildlife cautions owners to keep their cats indoors. This makes the cats less likely to catch and spread diseases and keeps them safe from predators including but not limited to coyotes, according to Emmert.
“Dogs are less likely to be free roaming,” Emmert said. “But letting the dog out off leash, in an un-fenced area is definitely asking for trouble…”
Emmert’s suggestions for keeping coyotes from getting too comfortable is to make noise, have motion-controlled lights and clean up food waste. She suggested that anything to keep “wildlife wild,” would prevent conflict.
While coyotes are not “over-populated,” they are in all 88 counties in Ohio. There is no one area they avoid.
Populations fluctuate depending on many factors such as food supply and weather. The better both are, the more puppies a coyote female will have in the spring.
“That’s the amazing thing about coyotes,” Emmert said. “They’re constantly readjusting.”
If the proper precautions are taken, residents shouldn’t worry that a coyote will attack without being provoked.
Gundlach, who has been Fuji’s owner for two years, doesn’t worry too much, so long as her dog is safe inside when nighttime comes.
“It is something in the back of my head,” Gundlach said. “When I hear them howling at night.”