Protection tips: Keeping pets safe from coyotes

As the weather gets warm, pet owners want to give their furry companions the treat of being outdoors. But without the necessary precautions, this could be a deadly mistake.

Coyotes are rampant throughout Connecticut, more so in woodsy areas like Ridgefield.

“Coyotes are here to stay,” said Peter Reid from Wildlife in Crisis last week. “And they average 35 to 40 pounds.”

According to Reid, efforts to diminish the coyote population always have the opposite effect.

“When coyote populations are under pressure, they reproduce at a higher rate,” he told The Press.

“If you kill an alpha, the family will break up and you’ll have more animals breeding.”

Coyotes are found in family units of three or four, according to Reid, putting cats and smaller dogs at risk.

They’re not the only household animals in danger.

Residents raising chickens have lost a few to foxes in the area this month, according to the Ridgefield Facebook page.

“A lot of these backyard chicken farms got into the habit of letting them run free,” he said.

“That’s not enough to protect the chickens; it’s just common sense you have to protect them like you would on a farm.”

Reid emphasized that with the necessary fences and enclosures, any pet should be just fine.

“With common sense, there’s no reason to feel any particular anxiety about coyotes,” he said.

“Just take common-sense measures to protect your pets.”

Rise of the ‘catio’

Many cat-lovers believe that their feline house hunters need the outdoors to lead fulfilling lives, although this has been widely discredited by experts in the matter, and cat patios — or “catios” — have been erected in back yards everywhere.

The catio is an enclosure that allows cats to roam freely in a determined area of a house’s patio, enjoying the sunlight and fresh air, free from the threat of predators.

Reid said cats, because of their size and “artificial predator” status, are the most at risk from coyotes and foxes.

“Cats shouldn’t be out anyway, cats should be inside,” he said. “Or you could build a catio.”

It’s a myth that cats are natural predators.

“A lot of the cats here are fat house cats that just go outside — they’re not predators,” he said.

“Cats have been living in human homes for millennia — they’re artificial predators, and they’re vulnerable to the real predators out there.”

Man’s best friend

While cats are preyed on by coyotes, dogs are not.

Disputes between the canines that share an average of 10% of their DNA are strictly territorial.

Reid told The Press that the best way to avoid fatal injuries for dogs is to keep them leashed while going on walks and building a five-foot fence where the dogs are outside.

“If people are going to be walking their dogs in a woodland area, it’s possible they’ll approach a den site,” he said. “The coyote will usually follow them until they leave the area — that’s a very typical escorting behavior. …

“The important thing is to keep your dogs on a leash; leashed dogs rarely have any incidents.”

He said that animal control officers in New Canaan have created a coyote-hazing kit.

“It’s got an air horn, whistle, and various hazing devices,” he said. “Those are things that you can carry with you on a walk.”

‘Positive service’

Despite the risks they impose on domesticated animals, coyotes do local ecosystems a favor and prevent residents — and their pets — from pesky ticks.

“Coyotes do perform a positive service for us,” said Reid.

“Most of their diet is rodents, field mice and woodrats — these are nature’s tick vectors.”

The animals also help regulate the deer herd, Reid said.