Coyote sightings are on the rise in some of Metro Detroit’s largest suburbs, causing worries for the safety of humans and pets as well as for the coyotes themselves.
The mayor of Auburn Hills took to Facebook last month to reassure citizens after residents of the city’s Churchill neighborhood contacted officials about a rash of coyote encounters.
Mayor Kevin McDaniel said coyote sightings in the Oakland County suburb are not unusual, but the city was obligated to respond to citizens who expressed worries about the wild animals.
“We take every safety concern seriously,” he said. “And then we evaluate them as they are relevant, and consult experts when we need to. Local government is not an expert on wildlife.”
To get advice on how to calm concerns about the coyotes, the city contacted the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Holly Vaughn, a public outreach technician for the DNR, said development of once-rural areas is bringing them into greater contact with people — and making the animals used to denser surroundings.
“We’ve kind of moved into their territory,” Vaughn said. “Coyotes are very adaptable creatures — they’ve learned how to live in close proximity with humans.”
Animal control officials in Metro Detroit say coyote sightings are becoming more frequent, though that hasn’t resulted in more calls for help.
“We haven’t necessarily received an increased number of complaints,” said Robert Gatt, manager of the Oakland County Animal Control center. “When we do, we refer them directly to the DNR. We don’t deal with wildlife.”
Mike Reese, chief of police for Huron-Clinton Metroparks, said his department keeps an eye on coyotes in the system’s 13 parks but hasn’t received any reports of trouble.
“We have them out here in the system,” Reese said. “We know they’re out there, but we haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary.”
For some residents, however, coyotes have gotten too close for comfort.
In January, Joyce Couch and her partner woke in the middle of the night to find two coyotes had crashed through a window into their Washington Township house.
Other than the broken glass, the damage was minimal, but the episode left Couch spooked.
“I was shocked,” she said. “We live on a golf course, so you can hear them out there, but we had never seen any.”
Macomb County Animal Control told Couch that since it was mating season, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be increased coyote activity, she said.
Coyotes tend to move around more during mating season, becoming more visible to suburban residents, Vaughn said.
According to Couch, Animal Control took the coyotes and released them in a different area of the Glacier Club golf course. That made her uneasy — Couch said officials should be trying to relocate wildlife away from populated areas.
“I thought they would have let them out somewhere else,” she said. “This is a subdivision. They don’t belong in here.”
Couch’s neighbor John Wesley said that although he’s concerned by the increasing number of coyote sightings around his home, he doesn’t know what state or city officials could do to keep them away.
“I have a little Shih Tzu that likes to run around,” Wesley said. “He’s only 12 pounds, and I know coyotes are bigger than that. I’ve seen them around the second or third hole of the golf course. They’re building homes around there. But I don’t think they’re at fault. They’re just trying to survive.”
Vaughn said for the most part, coyotes are not a threat to people.
“Coyotes are generally not aggressive,” she said. “They can occasionally get aggressive, specifically with people’s pets. Every once in a while they will eat small pets, like little dogs and cats. But the solution is just to watch your pets while they’re outdoors.”
Some communities, such as Canton, have been experiencing aggressive coyotes as the populations continue to rise. Canton resident Beth Rominski’s dog was attacked in April, injuring it severely.
“We let our dog go out into the backyard around 10 p.m. per usual. He ran right out, and was right outside our family room window,” Rominski said. “The vet said it was very obviously a coyote bite.”
That same night, two other dogs in Rominski’s neighborhood were attacked, one fatally, she said.
Rominski said the attacks came out of the blue, though her neighbors have been seeing coyotes in their yards on a regular basis. She said one neighbor has complained the coyotes are getting bold enough to approach their deck while they grill.
“I absolutely think it’s important for these animals to be removed,” she said. “Not just for animals, but also for small children. I think it should be done responsibly and humanely. But the human population is more important than the coyote population.”
Canton police officer Patty Esselink said the department has received regular phone calls reporting complaints or sightings since the April attack.
“We just need to be aware of them,” Esselink said. “Coyotes have an instinctive fear of humans. At this point, we would just encourage residents to coexist with them.”
Living with coyotes
Holly Vaughn, a public outreach technician for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, offered these tips for minimizing any danger from coyotes:
■Keep trash inside until the morning of pick-up.
■Don’t leave food outside for pets.
■If you have a bird feeder, keep an eye on it — the food can attract coyotes.
■Bold coyotes that have learned not to fear humans are rare, but can be dangerous. If a coyote does become aggressive, Vaughn said they can be scared away by making loud noise.