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    Thursday, June 08, 2023

    Neighbors concerned about coyotes in New London

    In this undated photo, Bella the Chihuahua, the family pet of Jennifer and Bo Pratt of New London, is seen. Bella was taken by a coyote from the Pratt family's backyard on April 1, 2017. A neighbor later found her body. Mayor Michael Passero says the city is addressing reports of nuisance coyotes. (Courtesy of the Pratt family)

    New London — Jennifer and Bo Pratt said they wished they had known about the coyotes in their neighborhood when they moved into their Glenwood Avenue home.

    One drizzling morning in early April, three weeks after moving there, Jennifer was going about her morning routine. When she went to slide open the door to her back porch, it set off the house alarm. She returned to the kitchen for just a brief moment to turn off the alarm. 

    Meanwhile, the family's dog, Bella, a Chihuahua, snuck out through the slim opening in the back porch door. When Jennifer returned, she said she saw that a coyote had Bella in its mouth and was walking away.

    Jennifer went out, barefoot, and yelled and waved at the coyote to drop the dog. She chased after the coyote, who went through her neighbor's yard, but it got away.

    "We hadn't anticipated them being so willing to come out in broad daylight," her husband, Bo, said about the coyotes, in an interview Saturday. "We didn't expect that — not here." 

    Residents in the neighborhoods around Ocean Beach say they are worried over coyote sightings and are posting their concerns on NextDoor, a social media app for neighborhoods. On Friday, member and resident Constance Kristofik sent a letter to The Day regarding the problem. Some residents said coyotes have followed them while they were walking their dogs, and they have now started carrying sticks and cowbells to scare away the wild animals.

    Judi Connelly of Lower Boulevard said she has put a cowbell on her dog and also keeps a stick on her porch, so she can use it to hit her chimes if a coyote comes near her house.

    Jennifer said a neighbor later found Bella's body. She said it has brought her some closure to know that someone did find her. 

    Jennifer, who has a 3-year-old daughter, Piper, and another child on the way, said she wants neighbors to know about the coyotes and suggested placing signs to warn people.

    "I don't want to see anybody else's pet come up missing," she said. She also worries for the safety of her children.

    Mayor Michael Passero said the city is working with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to obtain a permit, so the city can hire a licensed Nuisance Wildlife Control Officer. To do so, the city has to prove to DEEP that an animal poses a serious threat to public safety.

    "We're going to bring in an expert to capture the aggressive animal," Passero said.

    He said the city's animal control has taken the lead, along with the police, and patrols are being stepped up for the area. He also said city officials are trying to educate and reassure people that coyotes are not typically aggressive.

    He reminded residents to not interact or feed coyotes, "because that will complicate the situation by making them feel more welcome."

    City resident Kristen Alexander, who lives in the Neptune Park area, said a coyote followed her and her daughter and their dog, a pit-bull mix, one night and did not seem fazed when they yelled and when the dog barked.

    She said that while she periodically has seen coyotes in the neighborhood, she's never seen them unintimidated like this. She said she's known them to stay away from humans.

    City resident Mamie Bauduccio-Rock of Lower Boulevard said she has lived in the neighborhood for 23 years and aside from seeing one mangy-looking coyote several years ago on Gardner Avenue, she had never before seen a coyote on Lower Boulevard. While she was out walking her dog last Saturday, a coyote followed them.

    The reports of coyotes have her searching for answers.

    "I'm shocked and also really curious: what changed so that possibly several coyotes have taken up residence in our neighborhood?" she said.

    Police Captain Brian M. Wright said that coyote sightings have become more common over the years in Connecticut, as the animals have expanded their range.

    "Coyotes are opportunistic and use a variety of habitats, which include developed areas," he said by email.

    Police posted on Facebook in February a list of guidelines regarding coyotes. 

    Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state DEEP, said by email that coyotes are spotted all over the state, even occasionally in urban areas. He said the coyote population seems to be growing, based on anecdotal information.

    Schain advised that if people see a coyote, they should keep a good distance away and either bang on something or yell to scare the animals away. Pets should be kept on a leash and watched even in yards, because coyotes will go after smaller dogs and also cats.

    "Don't have food sources available in your yard," he said. "Food will attract animals and cause them to return seeking more."

    "Although some coyotes may exhibit bold behavior near people, the risk of a coyote attacking a person is extremely low. This risk can increase if coyotes are intentionally fed and then learn to associate people with food," according to DEEP's website.

    Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic, said the most important thing is to keep dogs and cats indoors.

     “Coyotes are very tolerant of humans. They live in a lot of cities. They live in Queens and the Bronx and in New London. They can live very close to humans and go unnoticed," she said.

    She emphasized, however, that people should not feed coyotes and should not leave garbage or food outside.  

    Their main foods are small mammals such as squirrels, rabbits and other rodents, and some ground-nesting birds. There is ample prey now for coyotes because of last year’s big acorn crop that was the main food for many of the animals they eat.

    “It’s just not practical” to trap and remove the coyotes from New London, Jones said. “They share the planet with us. That’s a good message around Earth Day (April 22). It means we have a healthy ecosystem.”

    She added that the only time people should be wary of coyotes is when they are “behaving peculiarly and not showing any fear,” because it could be a sign that the animal has rabies or distemper. In that case, the town’s animal control officer should be contacted.

    Day Staff Writer Judy Benson contributed to this report. 


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