Long considered a scourge of livestock by ranchers and farmers in the Western US, the creature some call the "Singing Dog" has added domestic pets to the menu as its ever-expanding range continues to encroach on populous areas. Rarely a threat to humans, this opportunistic scavenger and predator is a real danger to all companion animals that venture outdoors during its peak hunting hours between dusk and dawn.
Now present in all areas of the state, the coyote shows little fear of living in and around neighborhoods throughout Knoxville and Knox County. Their dietary adaptability allows them to survive in a variety of habitats, and the presence of garbage, pet foods and pets proves irresistible to those animals willing to live and hunt in such close proximity to humans. This, combined with their size and predatory nature, makes them especially dangerous to cats and small dogs.
Size alone, however, does not eliminate larger dogs from the menu, as instances of both individual and multiple coyotes attacking dogs as large and formidable as Rottweilers have been documented. Even the presence of fences has proven ineffective at keeping determined members of this species from attacking unattended dogs during nighttime hours.
The remarkable - and frightening - success of this versatile canine is attributed to several factors. Primary is the successful eradication of wolves from much of their native habitat by humans. The void left is a niche coyotes are well-suited to fill. With no other animals (aside from humans) able to prey upon them, coyotes have been able to reproduce virtually unchecked. This ecological opportunity, combined with their incredible adaptability to diverse habitats and civilization, has resulted in an unprecedented population boom across the North American continent. In fact, in spite of active extermination efforts around the country, the only limitations to their population growth appears to be resource depletion. This, in addition to diseases such as mange, distemper, rabies and parvo that coyotes can carry and transmit to domestic dogs, presents enormous risks to pets living in infested areas.
What can be done? For the sake of brevity, this article will limit itself to actions dog owners can take to minimize these risks:
- In areas known to harbor coyotes, never leave pet dogs outside unattended between dusk and dawn. While quite capable of daylight hunting, coyotes living among humans have become largely nocturnal to minimize interactions with them. This greatly elevates risk of predation at night.
- Don't let dogs outside after dark without first turning on exterior lights and checking even fenced yards for their presence. If one or more of them is present, keep pet(s) inside! Loud noises usually will scare them away, but great care should be taken when confronting such animals. Shouts, whistles, banging trash can lids, and other abrupt or explosive sounds can all be effective. Remember: it is illegal to discharge a firearm within the city of Knoxville.
- Never leave a dog on an exposed tie-out. They will be unable to adequately defend themselves if attacked, and may serve as little more than coyote bait.
- Don't leave pet food outside overnight.
- Don't leave garbage outside overnight.
- Spay female dogs. Coyotes will be attracted to and attempt to mate with females in heat.
- Lights activated by motion sensors, or yards with constant illumination, both can serve as effective deterrents.
- For persistent problems, motion-activated alarms can be installed.
- Buy a llama or donkey. Both are extremely hostile to coyotes.
- Finally, consider contacting a professional wildlife removal service. Once populations are established, however, new animals usually move-in to replace those removed.
The reality is coyotes are here to stay. Both fecund and adaptive, their ubiquity extends into the hearts of cities as dense and populous as Chicago and shows little sign of waning. It will be far easier to modify our behavior than theirs. It's up to dog owners to protect their pets, and the time to do so in Knoxville is now.
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