By Eileen Gallagher
Due to the attention generated by this article, it is being reprinted in its entirety. Coyotes are definitely news here in town. Since the story originally ran in September, there has been a continuing spike in reported coyote activity; whether due to increased awareness, actual activity or a combination of both may be debated. What is not subjective, however, is that several pets have fallen victim to coyote attacks in our town in the past year alone.
Many residents of New Castle were drawn to town by its bucolic setting, peaceful surroundings and abundant wildlife. People are captivated by the sight of a soaring eagle, nestling fawn or elegant swan. One member of the neighborhood, however, isn’t always a joy to behold. He is at once admired, feared, loved and dreaded… the enigmatic coyote.
Though opinions differ as to the origins of their habitat or their preferred food source, no one disputes the fact that coyotes pose a threat to our pets. This threat is clearly not ours alone, for coyotes are present in many towns across the country. Increasing numbers of reported incidents in our town over the past few years bespeak the danger they present.
Several residents have suffered the loss of, or injury to, their pet, and some have graciously shared their stories with Inside Chappaqua.
Joyce Wong knows all too well the life-threatening capabilities of coyotes. In October of 2013, her family’s Chihuahua, Papi, was believed to have been taken by a coyote around 8 a.m. on a school day following her and her husband’s departure for work. The family’s baby sitter heard barking after she let their two dogs out alone, something the family never did. After calling the dogs back to the house, the sitter said that the larger dog, Lena, returned alone–Papi never came back.
Already on her Manhattan-bound train, Wong received a frantic phone call from the sitter and, after instructing the sitter to call the police, immediately returned to Chappaqua.
The officer looked for signs of Papi around the home, located within 100 yards of Bell Middle School, but never found a trace.
The same day, a neighbor was walking on the block with her toddler and beagle when a coyote came behind them. She blasted the air horn she was carrying, but the coyote just stood there. Another neighbor happened by and finally got the coyote to leave. “Something was wrong,” said Wong. “It could have attacked someone.”
Wong notified Bell Principal Martin Fitzgerald the day after the incident. Fitzgerald was very sympathetic, according to Wong, and was instrumental in getting attention to the matter.
Fitzgerald himself had encountered a coyote on two different occasions while out running by the Croton Reservoir. One had run off into the woods as Fitzgerald neared it on the trail, but, another time, a coyote stopped and stared at him from a distance as he passed by.
Kathleen Cape, a resident of the Orchard Ridge area, also lost her family’s pet to a coyote around the same time. Her two “outdoor” cats had snuck out the door as she left the house to take her daughter to school. When Cape returned within minutes, she found one of the cats shivering by the door, but no sign of the 10 year old Maine coon the family had named Lola.
“They always stayed on our property–they never really wandered,” Cape said of the cats, which always came when called. She grew very concerned, especially after their Labrador retriever puppy stood in the garden barking and howling for more than an hour. Cape created flyers with Lola’s photo and received a call with heartbreaking news that afternoon. A neighbor from the street backing Cape’s saw a coyote in his garden carrying a lifeless cat matching the photo on the flyer. When he mentioned seeing a blue collar, Cape knew it was Lola.
A rescued dog named Jarron was reported missing from the same area of town around the same time as Papi and Lola.
Jim Horton, a wildlife professional and owner of Quality Pro, was called by New Castle police later that month after one of the officers spotted a large and mangy looking coyote in the area. According to a statement then released by police Chief Charles Ferry, “the Police Department has always been prepared to use a trapper if a coyote situation became a threat to public safety. This unusually large mangy coyote was seen on school grounds by a police officer and there have been small pets reported missing in the area. These facts are what were considered in the decision to trap the animal.” Chief Ferry went on to say, “Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare but when it comes to children we cannot take chances.”
Unfortunately, after obtaining the required permit, placing cameras, and subsequently setting up monitored, humane traps in the woods behind Bell, Horton was unable to trap the coyote, which had most likely “dispersed” by then.
This spring, a six-year-old Havanese named Samson was attacked by a coyote but managed to escape. Ann Brochstein described how her family’s two dogs, Samson and Cosmo, were out in the yard in late April of this year when she heard a scream. Samson ran to the door to be let in, and, according to Brochstein, ran around “crazed.” When she finally coaxed him out from under a console table, she found a large bulge on the side of his abdomen and bite marks on his back. Immediately taking him to an emergency veterinary office, she learned that the coyote, in grabbing Samson, had torn his abdominal wall and diaphragm. Samson required surgery followed by a multiple day stay in the hospital.
Piecing together evidence, both the police and the vet thought that 12-year-old Cosmo had distracted the coyote momentarily, saving Samson’s life. Noteworthy too–the attack seemingly happened on the stone patio, about ten feet from the door.
Most recently, the Silverman family lost their beloved Pekingnese, Oscar, to a coyote. Amy Silverman had returned to her home late in the afternoon on July 10th. Suffering from a migraine headache, she had gone to the doctor for blurred vision and light sensitivity. When she returned home, she went right to her room to rest. Oscar stayed with her as he usually did, sleeping under her bed.
A few hours later, Silverman and her four children noticed that Oscar was gone from their home. “He might have tried to follow my daughter to the car, thinking it was me,” Silverman said.The family and friends set out within minutes, searching the neighborhood with flashlights and calling for Oscar. By the early hours of the next morning, they returned home with hopes that someone had found him and taken him in for the night. When daylight came, they created flyers and distributed them to every house in the surrounding area.
While going door to door, Silverman recalled one of the neighbors telling her that she had seen a coyote near the swing set in her own yard the morning Oscar disappeared. The woman was new to the neighborhood and worried for her small child, but didn’t know of a way to notify anyone else. Another neighbor a block away later called in response to the flyer, reporting a recent coyote sighting in her yard. Unlike Silverman’s yard, neither of those yards back up to the woods.
A conversation with the animal control officer, James Moore, gave Silverman very little hope that Oscar was alive. “He mentioned sightings on a nearby street and said that a coyote probably took Oscar, and that there would be no remains but the collar.” Believing that to be the case, she sent her children into the woods to look for Oscar’s collar, but instead they found the partial remains of their beloved companion. “I hate that this is their last memory [of Oscar]. It is despicable.” Silverman also expressed extreme frustration that there was no alert* such as Nixle to inform people of coyote sightings.
Oscar was a special friend to the Silverman family, and known widely as a friend to both other dogs and people. “Everyone loved Oscar,” recalled Silverman. “I’m devastated. He was my fur-baby. He came everywhere with me. He even rode in the wagon in stores like Homegoods on top of my jacket so he wouldn’t shed or hurt his paws.” With brimming eyes, she continued, “I made him homemade gourmet food. He slept on my bed. He was totally special to me.”
Amy’s son Joshua, a senior at Greeley, described his loss. “I didn’t just lose my dog, I lost my best friend.” He continued, “They live in our homes, sleep in our beds. Coyotes take these precious pets from our lives.” He proudly shared many of the beautiful photos he had taken over the years, along with a video presentation set to music to honor his friend. He told about the toys Oscar had, and his three different beds. He also pointed out a paper prominently displayed on the refrigerator–the permit obtained from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to trap the coyote plaguing their yard. “My last memory of Oscar was seeing him licking Josh’s face.”
These women and their families experienced great sadness and pain, and shared their stories to help increase awareness of the potential danger to pets in the community. Wong’s daughter wrote a story, “Two Lives, Two Hearts, Two Memories,” to express her love and loss. “In Lola’s memory, anything I could do to help out,”
Cape said of her desire to spread the word about ways to prevent coyote attacks. Josh Silverman began working on an app to track coyote sightings. All of the families responded to Town Supervisor Rob Greenstein’s Facebook posting asking for volunteers as part of a taskforce he was forming to deal with the seemingly growing coyote presence.
* Since the original interviews and publication of this story, Town Supervisor Rob Greenstein has been hard at work on new and improved methods of communication.
Eileen Gallagher has lived in Chappaqua for 11 years with her husband, two sons and two dogs. She is a freelance writer, community volunteer, former PTA chairperson, and avid animal lover. Originally from Long Island with virtually no experience with coyotes, she became interested after encountering one in her backyard.
Ann Brochstein highly recommended the tips provided by the Colorado Division of Wildlife:
If a Coyote Approaches You:
- Do not run or turn your back
- Be as big and loud as possible
- Wave your arms and throw objects
- Face the coyote and back away slowly
- If attacked, fight back
Protect Your Pets:
- Keep pets on a short leash
- Use extra caution dusk through dawn
- Avoid known or potential den sites and thick vegetation
- Do not allow dogs to interact with coyote
If You Have Concerns About an Encounter With A Coyote:
- Recreate during daylight hours
- Walk with a walking stick
- Keep a deterrent spray handy
- Carry noise makers or rocks to throw
Your Home & Coyotes:
- Never Feed Coyotes
- Remove attractants from your yard, including pet food, water sources, bird feeders, and fallen fruit
- Secure trash in a container with a locking lid or put trash out on the morning of pick up
- Deter coyotes with a 6 foot privacy fence
- Never approach wildlife – if a coyote approaches, yell, throw rocks or sticks at it, spray with a hose, or bang pots and pans
Your Pet & Coyotes:
- Keep pets on a 6-foot leash when walking
- Never allow your pets to “play” with a coyote
- Pick up small pets if confronted by a coyote
- Always supervise your pet when outside, especially at dawn or dusk
- Never leave cats or dogs outside after dark
- Don’t leave pet food outside
- If you must leave your pet outside, secure it in a fully enclosed kennel