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Be Big, Be Scary: Advice For Coyote Encounters

Peggy Doty
Peggy Doty keeps a framed picture of her favorite coyote, Smiley, who had imprinted on humans after being saved as a pup.

Coyotes are feeling more at home in urban areas, where their favorite food, the rodent, is plentiful. Recent encounters with increasingly bold coyotes in Madison, Wisconsin have some residents worried about their pets.

What should people do if they find themselves face to face with Canis latrans? First, ask yourself…is it really a coyote? Peggy Doty says if it looks like a small German Shepherd with a really pointy nose, it’s probably a coyote, not a dog and certainly not a wolf. Doty is an educator with the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. She worked with coyotes while earning her wildlife management degree. She advises “act big, yell, wave your arms, be scary”… it’s your job to do what it takes to make them uncomfortable around humans.

Doty says one of the biggest misconceptions about coyotes is that there’s something wrong if you see one during the day. She says in cities, they’ve adopted a nocturnal lifestyle to avoid people. But in the suburbs and rural areas, they are just doing what they need to do to “fill their bellies.” And that can mean hunting for rats, squirrels, mice, and other small creatures day and night. Cats and dogs shouldn’t be part of that diet, but sometimes are. Often, when dogs are attacked, it’s territorial.

Doty says she suspects the attacks on small dogs in Madison can be blamed on one coyote. Now that it has learned the behavior, it will have to be trapped and euthanized.

Relocating a coyote isn’t the answer: not only will it try to return home and continue its behavior around humans, plopping it down in another coyote’s established territory is cruel. The rest of its short life will be spent in confusion and terror before it is killed by other coyotes.

Doty recommends cities adopt coyote policies so people know what to expect from animal control as well as learning their own responsibilities for reducing encounters with coyotes.

Peggy Doty talks about why coyotes are her favorite animal and what's so great about listening to them howl.

Tips from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources

For children

  • Coyotes look like pet dogs, but they are wild animals.
  • Do not try to pet or feed a coyote.
  • Coyotes usually avoid people, and do not bite except when they are cornered and afraid, or being hand-fed.
  • If a coyote comes toward you, do not run. Yell, stand up straight and wave your arms. You want to make yourself look large and be loud.
  • Play somewhere else for a week or more.

For adults and homeowners

  • To help protect small children and pets, all possible food for coyotes should be removed from around the homes in your neighborhood.
  • Keep a close eye on small children and pets whenever they are outside and a coyote is in your neighborhood.
  • Consider using a dog run or fence to protect small pets.
  • From a distance, try to scare the coyote away by being loud and throwing something, spraying water, or shooting paintballs towards the coyote.
  • Alert your neighborhood and the local municipality as soon as a problem develops with a coyote.
  • Coyotes are a permanent fixture in Illinois’ rural, suburban and urban areas.  If removal of a coyote is deemed necessary, hire a person with coyote removal experience who is licensed by the IDNR. 

These tips are adapted from the IDNR document, "Living With Illinois' Coyotes."

Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
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