Over the course of about two weeks in August, Trish Bolian had five jarring confrontations with coyotes in the backyard of her Hillwood neighborhood home.
Bolian said the most frightening incident finished with a 50-pound coyote staring down her 40-pound Wheaton terrier, which stood statuesque and unsure how to react. Bolian’s back had only been turned for 30 seconds before she saw what was about to happen.
Thinking back to the education she received about how to deal with coyotes, Bolian thought quickly, grabbed a pot and a spoon and charged toward the canines. She was banging on the pot and got within a few feet before the coyote trotted off leaving Bolian’s pet unscathed.
Bolian got lucky that day. In the last several months, coyotes have made their presence felt throughout Davidson County, especially in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods like Green Hills, Belle Meade and Oak Hill.
Several family cats and small dogs have gone missing and neighbors have been left scrambling for how to deal with the growing problem. Over the summer, Mayor Karl Dean’s family cat even went missing and his suspicion is that the disappearance is probably related to the growing coyote problem in Green Hills.
Bolian said the worst part of the increased coyote presence in her neighborhood is how the animals have become more brazen and on several instances came within feet of her and her husband.
“It’s terrifying to me that there’s this level of attack going on,” Bolian said. “People are floundering. I don’t think they know what to do.”
Concerns about coyotes go beyond the threat they pose to family pets. Coyotes are also a danger because of diseases, like rabies, which they carry at high rates.
Education is key
District 34 Councilman Carter Todd said the number of coyote complaints he’s gotten from residents has risen over the last few years. When Todd receives a phone call, he directs his constituents to educational tools provided by the Metro Health Department and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Both of those governmental groups do little in the way of trapping the coyotes for various reasons. The primary reason is because coyotes are difficult to catch.
So while governmental agencies struggle to offer trapping options, laws also limit citizens from taking matters into their own hands. Gun laws prohibit citizens from shooting a coyote in almost all of Davidson County.
So with options limited, educating people on how to deal with the growing number of coyotes has become the top priority.
Judy Ladebauche, the director of animal care and control for Metro, said she has received several requests to speak in front of concerned neighborhood groups. Ladebauche tells them coyotes appear in neighborhoods because they are looking for food.
The best way to avoid a coyote attack on a pet is to not leave food out at night, especially trash or leftovers from a cook out. Ladebauche also recommends owners supervising their pets when they are let out to use the bathroom at night.
“Our strong recommendation is to not leave pets out at night and to always supervise them, preferably on a leash, when you take them for a walk,” Ladebauche said, adding that noise like the radio can also deter coyotes.
In his role as furbearer coordinator for TWRA, biologist Gray Anderson also has had to deal with the rise in coyote incidents in Nashville. Anderson said his agency does not keep firm statistics on the number of coyotes in the county, because the animal is incredibly difficult to track.
Anderson described rural farmers’ frustrations with coyotes and the lessons learned when they went to great lengths to destroy them.
“Coyotes are very smart,” Anderson said “The farmers found out that if they shot and killed a bunch, more would come back. It’s almost like they have a sense of population control and know that if they lose some, they need to have more litters the next year.”
According to Anderson, an important component of education is to reassure people that coyotes virtually never attack humans. According to the TWRA Web site, only 30 human attacks by coyotes have ever been recorded. Anderson said that as Nashville has continued to develop and add more residential areas, the coyotes have learned to adapt.
“It’s a perfect coyote habitat,” Anderson said. “They’re not really too much of a threat, besides to small animals in some cases. I generally tell people to do the best to keep coyotes moving.
“You can’t do much about it other than to live with it. The more you persecute them, the more they respond.”
Frustration is growing
Bolian claims, however, that she followed all of the advice given to her by TWRA and Metro Health and still the confrontations persisted. Bolian claims she keeps her trash in her house at night and never walks her animals unattended after dusk.
But several of the incidents in her backyard came in broad daylight, in the late morning or early afternoon. And the coyotes Bolian saw were not reclusive, but rather standoffish when she approached.
So Bolian called a private animal control company, the Wildlife Control Company, to help confront her coyote problem. Wildlife Control Company owner Jeff Moore set traps in Bolian’s property, but so far no coyotes have been caught.
Moore said he’s seen a rise in the number of coyote-related calls he’s received in the last several months.
“As the population grows, a lot of people like to think we’re pushing animals out,” Moore said. “But what’s happening is animals are learning to adapt.”
And as those animals are adapting, and taking the lives of more and more family pets in the process, the level of frustration has grown as well.
Moore is contracted to catch coyotes in Belle Meade and other Davidson County outlying municipalities. Some believe Metro’s best course of action might be to adopt a similar program with private contractors, who proactively trap the coyotes, instead of waiting for the problem to grow any more.
According to Todd, Metro action on the issue could be coming soon.
“We’re seeing tons of them,” Todd said. “Now, coyote attacks on humans are very, very rare. But the coyotes are attacking small dogs and cats and carry diseases. I think it’s a new event so people are still getting their arms around it.
“People in Green Hills are pretty educated and pretty patient. They’ve been saying, ‘Why don’t we contract somebody to trap these?’ Patience is starting to run out.”