After coyote attack in Misquamicut, officials remind residents to take safety precautions

A coyote in Watch Hill. Sun file photo

WESTERLY — One after the other, resident after resident addressed the Town Council Monday to talk about their experiences with coyotes.

The comments, many describing frightening encounters with the wild animals or incidents in which dogs were attacked, followed a presentation by Animal Control Officer Arthur Smith on an education program aimed at keeping coyotes in the woods. Some residents were receptive to the program and others called it a first step but some were dismissive, saying the real problem involves coyotes that have become habituated to humans and won’t stop until they are killed. In all, the council spent about two hours on the topic of coyotes.

In addition to eliminating potential food supplies for coyotes by securing trash receptacles and not leaving pet food outdoors, Smith said “hazing” — methods such as repeatedly yelling or clanging pots and pans — is an effective way to push coyotes back into the woods.

Michele Vacca, moderator of the Misquamicut Fire District and a real estate agent who markets rental properties for summer getaways, said two of her tenants and three landlords had dogs attacked by coyotes in Misquamicut last summer. Two of the dogs died, she said.

“The coyotes are out of control. This is something that has to be addressed in the fall,” Vacca said, going on to call the suggestion of using pots and pans “ridiculous.”

While she said she would verbally warn tenants about the presence of coyotes in the area, Vacca said she would not give them a copy of a letter Smith sent to real estate agents for fear of scaring customers away.

Amy Stowe, a Misquamicut resident, described an incident involving a coyote that jumped over a fence and into her backyard while she and her dog were outside on a summer evening. The coyote grabbed her dog by the neck but eventually let go when Stowe yelled at the wild animal. Her dog required immediate care from a veterinarian, Stowe said.

Rob Saglio, a resident who started the Westerly Coyote Report Facebook page, thanked Smith and Chief of Police Shawn Lacey for meeting with him and praised the education program but said he was doubtful problems with habituated coyotes would diminish without a planned effort to kill the habituated animals. Saglio said an effort to cull two dens of coyotes at the Avondale Preserve last winter appears to have worked. “Now they are behaving like wild coyotes,” Saglio said, and no problems have been reported at the preserve this spring.

Smith said coyotes now live throughout the Northeast. After researching the animals and how other communities have responded to them, Smith said he learned that efforts to cull the coyote population by killing them is “no more than a short term solution.”

The ongoing program also involved Smith writing to business owners and asking them to secure garbage receptacles.

“If you take away the food source you take away the urbanized coyotes,” Smith said.

He also advises keeping a close eye on pets and keeping dogs on leashes.

According to Smith, he has not received any reports of coyote “incidents” since October, but he acknowledged that residents might classify their encounters with the animals differently. As he continues the education program, Smith said he hoped to conduct public meetings and to meet with local fire districts.

Town Councilor Karen Cioffi said she and many residents are frightened of coyotes and asked Smith to acknowledge their feelings.

Former Town Councilor Philip Overton advised against a potential town-organized culling effort, saying coyotes in the region are “very easy to co-exist with by simply modifying behavior.” Eliminating the food supply in backyards and keeping a close eye on pets are necessary, he said.

Council President Christopher Duhamel said the council would evaluate the effectiveness of the education program in the fall.

Town Council member Suzanne Giorno recommended performing research to determine the exact type of coyote that is causing problems. Smith and others said the coyotes in the town could be mixed with other animals. The problem animals should also be tracked, Giorno said.

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