Coyote concerns prompt public meeting

Coyote's den entrance
This coyote den is one of several in the area between Kingswood and Neville Park discovered by Kingswood resident Chris Peters. Peters’ dog was recently attacked by a coyote, and later died of its injuries. PHOTO: CHRIS PETERS

The Neville Park/Kingswood coyote – or coywolf – or Eastern Coyote – will be the focus of a community meeting March 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), at the Beaches Rec Centre, 6 Williamson Rd. Area residents have been asked by Toronto Animal Services (TAS) not to feed the creature and to report anyone they might see feeding it. It is becoming socialized to people and acting more bold around humans in the neighbourhood (coyotes in the area have already attacked several dogs, and killed two).

The meeting, sponsored by TAS, is intended to raise the public’s awareness of the animal’s presence, and to educate them on how to deal with it. Because, like so many other animals in the Toronto area – raccoons, skunks, deer, rabbits – coyotes have become more populous, we have to realize that they are wild animals, not the cute, cuddly creatures that many think they are. If we want to allow them to live in the city alongside us, we have to be careful that they don’t become reliant on us for food. When that happens both parties run the risk of serious injury or death.

Chris Peters knows that first-hand. The Kingswood resident’s Maltese, Cujo, was snatched by the coyote right in front of him just a month ago. Peters gave chase and managed to get the coyote to let his pet go, but Cujo was badly injured and had to be put down. It wasn’t the first time his dog was attacked, and Peters has been waging a letter-writing campaign between TAS and Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA) trying to find out which level of government is actually responsible for dealing with the coyote. He has been ping-ponged back and forth between the two departments and has become terribly frustrated.

“It’s such a division of responsibility depending on property and location, that to be so tenuous and on-the-fence is disconcerting to me and to my neighbours,” said Peters.

Peters has taken several photographs of the coyote’s den sites throughout the area. Some, he said, are on private property – and thus the responsibility of the property owner – while others are on city-owned property.

Representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) have told him that those dens are the responsibility of TRCA, whose position seems to be that if the dens are damaging TRCA-controlled property, they will be cleared away. If they are not causing any damage then it is actually illegal for them to be cleared. Defining what actually constitutes ‘damage’ is part of the problem.

TAS organized the March 19 meeting. Mary Lou Leiher said that coyotes in general are afraid of people.

“A coyote standing 10 to 15 feet away from you and looking at you is not a threat,” she said. “This one, however, has become habituated.”

TAS told Peters that it is not equipped for dealing with actual safety threats, and suggested Peters consider hiring a trapper. Enter Dan Frankian of Hawkeye Bird and Animal Control Inc., who says his is the only bird and animal wildlife company in the GTA licensed to permanently remove pest animals.

“The first thing people have to do is stop feeding it,” said Frankian, who has been in the trapping business for many years. “Sooner or later it is going to lose outright fear of humans altogether, and something is going to happen.”
Frankian explained that by law, when he traps the coyote, he can’t relocate it any further away than one kilometre, which will only result in the animal returning to the neighbourhood. Because coyotes are smart enough to recognize a trap a second time, in virtually all cases he ends up humanely killing it – something he is licensed to do.

“You can’t keep helping them,” he said. “Every single animal parent has to teach its young to fend for themselves. By feeding it, you are upsetting nature’s balance.”

Frankian’s advice for people living in an area where they know there is a coyote is to walk small dogs on a leash out on the front sidewalk – don’t let them run loose in the back yard. “The last thing I want to do is have a coyote hacked to death by some idiot with a machete,” he said.

Peters is hoping that the March 19 meeting will result in a city bylaw, such as the one in place in Niagara Falls, that will make feeding the coyote illegal. He worries that setting a trap could potentially put other area animals at risk. Considering that TAS originally tried trapping the coyote when it first appeared three years ago – and failed – the coyote may already be too wary to be trapped at all.

“If there’s enough people who are willing to keep an eye out for it, and haze it, the coyote will find somewhere else to hang out,” said Peters.

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