Monday, May 7, 2012

The Very Long Tail of Coyote Ugly.

I have struggled with writing this blog post for the last couple weeks. I've thrown titles up in the air for days; sputtered over the words to describe what we have been dealing with recently, sitting down to write, and then walking away.

Our darling cat, Sookie, disappeared back at the beginning of February. I was incredibly sad, not only for myself as I was pretty attached to her, but also for my little ones, who loved their kitty cat. I took this photo of Sookie just a bit before she disappeared:

She spent most of her time inside, but would play outside during the day a little bit, and then would wait for us at the door to let her in. I was really worried when she never came back to our porch.

A few days later, I was sitting on my sofa, when I heard the blood-curdling yips, howls, and laughs of a pack of coyotes right outside our window.

I cried and cried.

Unbeknownst to me, there is a den of coyotes uncomfortably close to our house.  When I talked to our closest neighbor, she said that she had been hearing them for nearly a year and that they wake her up at night quite frequently (our bedroom sounds like the inside of an airplane thanks to my reliance on an air filter to sleep).

When the chickens joined our family, we were pretty concerned. We were careful about locking them up securely at night, and we let them roam our yard during the day.

At this point, we learned that there are many myths about coyotes: one of them being that coyotes are nocturnal and only hunt at night.

After we had had our chickens for 6 weeks or so, I left the house for half an hour to pick up David at 3 PM in the afternoon, and came home to two less chickens in my flock. I thought that maybe they would come back and were just hiding somewhere. But when David searched the fields that surround our house, he found a trail of feathers all the way across the pasture, from our house back into the woods. Leaving only feathers would seem indicative that the coyotes took two of my hens as a mid-day snack.

We were upset and shocked that coyotes took them in the middle of the day, and we began constructing a new coop that they could stay in all day that was coyote-proof. However, David was rarely home at all, and did not have time to work on it much, so it was slow going.

The following week, I walked past my back door after I had woken up in the morning, and out the windows I saw a coyote, leaping in mid-air, with Chanticleer in his mouth, not ten feet from my porch. I grabbed my shoes and a shovel (the closest thing to a weapon that I had near me), and went running and screaming bloody murder after the coyote. Exactly what I was screaming is not appropriate it repeat, but I startled the coyote enough to drop Chanticleer. In the process, I think scared all of my neighbors within half a mile of us, too.

David's sister and her boyfriend just happened to be visiting, for what will probably be the last time ever, after that brouhaha. (Just kidding, I hope!) They, and David, who hadn't really seen what was happening in the yard, came running outside too.

We saw another coyote standing in our brush, watching us, after I had chased off the first coyote. And there were two other chickens who were already missing. One came back, missing feathers, but alive. However the other never returned. We went from a flock of seven to four in the matter of a week.

After this crazy, adrenaline-filled, and night-mare giving morning, things we pretty quiet for a little while. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, and was too anxious to be at home with the kids by myself. Spending most of my time at the park, library, park, another park, or walking around stores/running errands.

My chickens stopped roosting in their coop, even though they had roosted in there every night for the past two months. I'm assuming because they were afraid/ sensed predators. They took up to roosting right by our door, and I thought that perhaps with the motion sensor-ed light and the close proximity to us and Pongo, that it might be the safest place for them.

One morning, about two weeks ago, David woke up around 6:30 AM, and when I got up around 7:30 AM, David said realized that he hadn't heard Chanticleer crow that morning. David searched and searched, but no sign of him.

I took David to class, and then, when I was driving home, I noticed in front of our house (on the outside of our picket fence), orange feathers, everywhere. When David came home, he surveyed the area, and it seemed rather clear that coyotes had chased our poor rooster off of our porch, out of our yard into the front of our fence and gotten him.While I cared about all of my chickens, I was especially attached to Chanticleer. He was my first chicken, and such a sweet rooster. I loved hearing him crow every time he saw us in the morning. And he made me laugh every day.

I was heart-broken. After several weeks of my flock being preyed-upon, I felt like such a failure. I couldn't bare the thought of losing another chicken, or even worse, that my children might be outside when coyotes come into our yard. So, we gave our three remaining chickens to some friends of ours, where we knew they would be safe and cared for. Even though our new coop would most likely keep them safe, the safety of my family was more of a concern- and I did not want to have anything that would encourage the coyotes to come near us.

The week following re-homing our chickens, we spotted coyotes four different days in our yard- at all times of the day. Pongo actually chased two of them out of our yard. While it's nice to know that he is protective of our home, and surprisingly fierce when threatened, it's a little disconcerting for there to be a coyote hiding in the bushes about ten feet from your car when you pull in the driveway, and to not even know it.

All in all, it's been a stressful time. I've learned more about coyotes than I ever wanted to know.

Things I had heard about coyotes that just aren't true:

-Coyotes are nocturnal and hunt at night.  And at 6 AM, 9 AM, 12 PM, and 3 PM if they are hungry.
-Coyotes are scared of humans. Except that they will come within a few feet of humans, show no sign of fear, and are not afraid of cars, homes, and the presence of dogs.
-Coyotes are afraid of light, loud music, dogs, etc. While this might be true of more rural coyotes, urban coyotes are desensitized to all of the things.
-Coyotes are small, and look somewhat like foxes. These are actually bigger than Pongo, and look more like a wolf to me.

It's been a long past few weeks. I can't let the children play outside, and honestly, I'm afraid to be outside myself. It's been a challenge to handle the energy of level of an almost-three-year-old and a one-year-old who are quite the adventurous spirits and would live outside if I let them. And I have had a lot of anxiety and depression about the entire situation.

At this point, we are not completely sure what to do about it. We don't have the money to put in a fence (it would be around $4k to fence our yard), and trapping is also pricey and uncertain. It's illegal to shoot a gun in city limits (did I mention that all of this is taking place in a rather residential area?!). Not to mention, a challenge when dealing with a moderate to large pack of coyotes.

A large part of me just wants to move. I am so tired of the stress that this has brought on me and my family. But obviously, that's not simple either.

So for now, we are coping. And spending a lot of time at the park. And feeling depressed about homestead dreams that seem even further out of reach. And just unsure.

Edit: A couple of you mentioned calling animal control, and believe me, we have! They cannot do anything with coyotes, primarily because they do not have the equipment necessary. We, and our neighbors, have talked to them multiple times, and depending on who we talk to, they range from completely unhelpful, to suggesting that we use a certified trapper.


Sarah said...

How scary and frustrating. Have you tried talking to animal control? I think if it were around here and they posed a safety hazard, the police would do something.

Jacinda said...

Hi Caroline,
I have loved following your blog over the past couple years, and I am so sorry to hear about all this awful coyote news. I can't believe your chickens are gone either, what a terrible experience. Is there any way to call animal control since the coyotes may pose a threat to your family? I hope it gets figured out soon and I am so sorry about all this.
Take care,

Clandestine Road said...

Oh my goodness. I am so sad to hear of this. I cannot imagine the terror. Just by the bush, watching you. I hope you find some way to relax and a solution to keep you guys and your chickens safe.

Amy Lukavics said...

How terrible. I'm so, so sorry about Sookie and your chickens. I don't even know what I would do in your situation. I hope things work out and you start feeling a little better soon. :'(

mary said...

how very frustrating! we too have had problems with coyotes getting our chickens but we are out in the country a bit. it seems like even with urban chickens though, from what i've read and the people i've talked to, they have to be completely enclosed at night, otherwise they are just too vulnerable. but during the day-yikes-those must be some desperate coyotes.

has anybody in your neighborhood had any problems with them being aggressive towards people? i can understand your concern for your little ones being alone outside, although your dog sounds like a great protector, but i wouldn't think they'd bother an adult. maybe they'll stop coming around after the chickens have been gone for a while???

so sorry for this ordeal. i have two little boys and know exactly how energetic they can be!

Mama Gone Green said...

Oh man. What sad new...
I lost one cat to coyotes when I lived in Colorado and another one in Tahoe who went missing...and I assumed coyotes got him too. I hate having that fear about animals, but yet don't want to keep them locked up indoors either.
What a stressful situation for you!

Unknown said...

You would think that living in a rural area I would have some solid advise for you, but growing up our way of handling coyotes was to keep a shotgun on the tractor or on the 4wheeler. I'm so sorry you are having these problems. Without help from animal control, and without the use of a gun, I'm not really sure what you can do. I hope you figure something out, though. They are definitely dangerous and scary animals. If I were you I would call the police and let them know how close they are. They are threatening more than your chickens at this point. Keep Pongo inside too! Let me see if I can get any good information from my friends still in my hometown.

Pat said...

Get in touch with a Forest Ranger at one of the State parks or National parks, ask them how to handle the situation. What about poison? If you can't shoot them and your animal control won't have to do something!

Ruth said...

That is horrible. I am sorry to hear that you are in such stress. Its unbelievable that animal control can't do anything about it. The coyotes would also be better of further away from residential areas, as would the residents.
It's horrible not being able to let the kids out. I hope you find a solution for this soon.

Anonymous said...

I know I may get flamed for this but can you poison them somehow? Like leave some steak out with arsenic in it or something?

Unknown said...

Here are the ideas that I was told:

Antifreeze. Just make sure Pongo is in the house and it's cleaned up the next morning (and your kids too) but it will do the trick. It helps if you keep all garbage inside while you do this so they don't have anything else to go for.

Electric fence. I know you said that fencing your yard isn't an option, but maybe just around the house to get the message across?

A bow should be legal. And they are surprisingly easy to shoot. And it's good exercise.

If you really want to toe the line, a .22 sounds more like a bb gun, but you would have to have a good aim.

And then all of my friends got into a heated debate about using guard dogs and whether or not coyotes can kill dogs. They in fact CAN. I know this because they nearly killed our dog (who actually came to my dad's rescue - they attacked him). In my opinion the best way to for sure get rid of them is antifreeze. I'm normally against something like that, but in a situation like yours it's a matter of saving your family.

Sarah said...

I was going to suggest the route of poison too, antifreeze esp. But also, have you thought of putting up a fence yourself? Nothing fancy, just wire and some posts. It won't be pretty, but it should keep the coyotes out, especially now that you don't have chickens or a cat, they won't have much reason to try and get through the fence. At least then you can know the kids and yourself are safer.

Anonymous said...

I am so sad to read about your situation.I live in a totally different state and was surprised to find that animal control where I live would not come remove 2 foxes from the playground of my child's day care....they had to hire a trapper who only charged the if he caught the foxes..not hard to do since they were SLEEPING on the playground equipment! Seriously, what is animal control for??????

Chuck Singletary said...

Gram and I are dismayed by you situation. I think you should try the antifreeze. Have you tried the police? If so I think I would send a copy of this blog to the Mayor and to the editor of newspaper. I would show that I had copied each on the transmittal note. Then if you know someone at the newspaper taking to them. Gram and I will continue praying about the situation. The 22 or even better your dad's shotgun sounds good as a last resort.

Cate said...

Oh Caroline, this is so awful and scary! I would also be afraid to let my kids or dog into the yard (not to mention going out there myself). I'd be looking over my shoulder constantly. If animal control can't/won't do anything, I would consider trying something myself...I just can't imagine. And I'm so sorry to hear about Sookie.

Sheena Louise Roetman said...

Ugh, this is awful!! I know exactly how you feel -- in Wyoming we had coyotes but also mountain lions. One day one was just sitting at the end of my driveway, watching. So spooky. It's so miserable to not feel safe in your own yard!

Normally I would say to shoot them anyway but if you have close neighbors you probably don't want to go marching around waving a gun. I would suggest poisoning them somehow.. It sounds inhumane but you need to be safe. Leave some raw meat out with some kind of known poison and just make sure your pup stays inside until it's all gone.

Good luck!!

Heather said...

I am so sorry. We lost two cats last fall to coyotes that our town would/will do nothing about. I'm usually strongly for animal's rights but if I went into a coyote's territory and killed it's loved ones it would kill me. I say poison them. Wild animals that are that used to humans are extremely dangerous. What if one decided a 2 year old looked like a good snack?

Heather said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Sookie and your chickens. We lost both our cats to a coyote back in October and November. I used to be totally animal rights until both of my "babies" were taken from my yard during daylight hours by those wild beasts (we live in a town). Our town won't do a thing either and animal control is a joke.
If I knew where the den was I'd poison them. Sadly, we've considered moving too over this situation. I hope you feel better soon :(

Katie Olthoff said...

oh wow. We have coyotes around us, and just saw one in daylight for the first time the other day. They are HUGE. We trapped one this winter and I was amazed at how big and mean looking it was! I don't blame you for being anxious and scared. I would be, too. Hopefully you'll find a solution!

Mandi said...

That is a bunch of BS about Animal Control!! They told YOU to hire a trapper... if they don't have the equipment then THEY need to hire a trapper! That is the CITY'S responsibility! Not yours!! Is there a TV news station in Athens? Because I would go to them to get this situation more visible! The city NEEDS to do something about this, not you! This is a very dangerous situation that needs to be taken care of by the city. You need to do something to force their hand...

Anonymous said...

The only thing about antifreeze is that while you can keep your dog and children away from it--no telling about neighboring children or pets. Even if you kill a few of them, more will likely come back--just a matter of when--as long as there is a food source, they will keep returning. Better plan is to make it an inhospitable environment they steer clear of.

I grew up with tons of coyotes--we have a strong (cattle strength)three strand electric fence and left our dogs out during the day--never had a problem.

Have you thought about a paint ball gun? Legal, and would "tag" them so you can keep track of how many there are, which ones are coming back, etc. Does require you to be a good shot.