When Don and Molly Wyenberg bought a home in Northeast Tacoma with their daughter and son-in-law last March, they had little reason to believe letting pets outside would be a risk.
Their two cats, Merry and Pippin, were named after two adventurous Hobbits in the “Lord of the Rings” saga. Yet only one, Merry, liked to wander outdoors. When a third cat, Snickers, joined the home, Merry was outside even more, gone at daylight and back at dusk.
One June night, Merry didn’t return. Don and Molly searched the neighborhood the next morning.
“We found her collar,” Don Wyenberg said. “We haven’t seen her since.”
Don Wyenberg knew Merry’s collar did not just fall off. He learned that neighbors had reported dozens of coyote sightings in the past year. Dogs and cats had also gone missing.
“We didn’t realize the coyote problem was that bad,” he said.
The city of Tacoma is hoping to provide some relief. Last month, it signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services department to harass, capture and kill aggressive coyotes.
Next week, the agency and city will meet with residents of Northeast Tacoma about what will happen this year to address the problem, which has been occurring since at least last spring.
Last summer and fall, the coyotes’ daylight escapades grew even more daring. By September, coyotes were killing pets in broad daylight in front of people. One coyote even lay in wait in a homeowner’s backyard for the dog to get let out. Dozens of sightings around the golf course, near Dash Point Park and close to the area’s schools had residents on high alert.
Coyotes usually fear humans and are nocturnal. But as they adapt to the urban environment, the creatures lose their fear of humans and can associate humans with food, said Ken Gruver, assistant state director for USDA’s Washington and Alaska Wildlife Services program.
“There’s a certain percentage of those that become more adaptable,” he said. “They learn things like, ‘If I grab that little dog off the leash, that lady will drop it.’ Or ‘If I nip that kid at the bus stop, he will drop his lunch.’”
So far, no children have been harmed, said Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel, but last fall parents received a warning about aggressive coyotes. Gruver said a small percentage of coyotes are considered a safety issue in Northeast Tacoma.
Maureen Larson Bonck has become a point person in her Northeast Tacoma neighborhood for tracking coyote sightings and attacks.
“In the past, seeing coyotes was an event. In the last year, it’s gotten pretty bad,” she said. “We are feeding them our cats and dogs, and they are finding out encounters with people are not very scary.”
At the community meeting next week, the USDA will explain what it will do to curb aggressive coyotes. The agency is well-known for its farm programs, but it also manages wildlife conflicts, Gruver said.
It’s illegal to discharge a firearm in the city limits, Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said. But USDA agents and other commissioned officers can fire weapons in the city, she said. Gruver said the agency will work with police throughout its coyote-control efforts.
Since Merry died, Don Wyenberg said the family installed a 6-foot fence to protect their remaining cats — and his two young grandchildren, one of whom is just learning to walk.
“I just hope they resolve it,” he said.
• Coyotes eat any small animal they can capture, including mice, rats, mountain beavers, squirrels and snakes. They also scavenge from animal carcasses.
• Pairs of coyotes or family groups can pursue small deer and antelope.
• Coyotes are known to eat pet food, garbage, garden crops, livestock, poultry and small pets.
• Coyotes breed in late winter. An average of four pups are born from early April to late May. Pups emerge from the den two to three weeks later.
Safety around coyotes
• If a coyote approaches too closely, pick up small children and act aggressively toward the animal. Wave arms, throw rocks and shout at the coyote.
• Make yourself appear larger by standing up. The idea is to convince the coyote you are not prey, but a danger.
• When coyotes are around regularly, keep a noisemaker nearby. A squirt gun filled with vinegar or a spray of water from a hose can startle a coyote.
• Do not leave small children unattended in areas coyotes frequent.
• Never feed a coyote. Do not leave pet food, compost, vegetables or garbage in an area where coyotes can reach it.
• Call the city of Tacoma’s hot line to report coyote encounters: Call 311 from inside the city limits or 253-627-7387, option 2. Northeast Tacoma Neighborhood Council meeting
Where: Northeast Tacoma Police Substation, 4731 Norpoint Way NE, Tacoma.
When: 6 p.m. Thursday.
Issue: To discuss efforts to deter aggressive coyotes in Northeast Tacoma.Kate Martin: 253-597-8542 kate.martin@ thenewstribune.com @KateReports Source: State Department of Fish and Wildlife