Some wildlife lovers get excited when they hear or see coyotes, but for pet owners like Gena Chhikara, the howl of a coyote is more akin to a warning siren.
Chhikara's Great Dane-German Shepherd mix has been involved in two fights with coyotes in recent months. On one November morning, her dog chased after a coyote that encroached upon their two-acre Bayside lot, which caused a second coyote to chase after the dog and bite him.
On another occasion, her dog chased after a coyote and returned with blood on his face and stomach.
"Now whenever he hears them, he wants to go after them, even if they aren't on his territory," she said. "It's a problem."
Chhikara was one of about 100 North Shore residents seeking answers to their coyote questions during an informational hearing at Bayside Middle School Wednesday night, where Lynsey White Dasher, an urban wildlife specialist for The Humane Society of the United States, explained how coyotes end up in the North Shore area and what residents can do to protect their pets.
It's hard to say how many coyotes are present in the Bayside area, but Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Tom Isaac believes there could be as many as 10 to 20 in Bayside. One Whitefish Bay resident reported seeing a pack of 12 coyotes in her neighborhood.
Although nearly all of the residents present at the meeting said they were concerned about their pets, White Dasher said coyotes generally prefer to avoid confrontation, which is why they are often heard and not seen—with rare exceptions like the coyote found in a Chicago Quizno's restaurant.
White Dasher said coyotes are often lured into yards by unsecured garbage cans, vegetable gardens, fruit on the ground and pet food and water left outside. They are also attracted to turkeys, which are a common sight in the Bayside area.
Coyotes will get closer and closer to residential properties until residents show them they aren't welcome.
"The reason this happens is almost always because of food. Coyotes are very smart, so they are constantly testing us," she said. "If a coyote learns they can come into a community and eat out of a Dumpster, and nothing bad happens to them, they will come closer. Maybe then they will come to the outskirts of a yard and eat scraps from a barbecue grill. If nothing happens to them then, they will come on to your porch and eat out of a dog food bowl. They are testing us and we are teaching them without realizing it."
In addition to easy food sources, coyotes are also attracted to small unattended pets, which make up 2 percent of a coyote's diet. Coyotes are likely to be more territorial in December through March, which is their mating season. She recommends cats and dogs both be kept on a leash. Cats, in particular, should be kept inside or kept in a sheltered area.
Fences must be at least six feet high and must be flush with the ground to stop coyotes from jumping over or burrowing under the fence.
To get rid of coyotes, White Dasher suggests "hazing" them by making loud noises, spraying water at them or throwing things at them. Hazing can be as simple as yelling and waving your arms, using an air horn or spraying them with a squirt gun.
"We're reestablishing their natural fear of people," White Dasher said. "Just like when coyotes howl and mark their territory for other coyotes, when we stand with a whistle or an air horn in our yard, we are doing the same thing. We are marking our territory in a way that they understand."
If the coyote already feels habituated in the area, the coyote might only run 10 or 15 feet. If the coyote doesn't leave—or continues to come onto your property over time—White Dasher suggests being louder, more aggressive and running them off the property.
White Dasher said you should never ignore a coyote. Running from a coyote may trigger their predatory instinct and cause them to chase after you.
Only two humans have been killed by coyotes: a three-year-old girl in California and a 19-year-old girl in Nova Scotia. White Dasher said humans are generally only bitten if they interfere in a fight between a coyote and a pet.
"You are more likely to be killed by a champagne cork or a golf ball than you are to be killed by a coyote," she said.
Attempts to relocate coyotes to a different setting are usually unsuccessful, because they almost always try to find their way back to their home den, White Dasher said. Efforts to kill coyotes are similarly unsuccessful, because the remaining females will have more pups than usual. If a female is killed, other females will start breeding more aggressively, White Dasher said.
If you live in Bayside and want to report a coyote conflict, you can call Police Captain Scott McConnell at (414) 351-8800.