With coyote sightings becoming more common in Cape Coral, and following a recent attack on a dog, citizens are reminded to take precautions to avoid attracting the animals and to keep their pets close.
Encounters between people and coyotes in Florida are occurring more often, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As they become used to humans, they may lose some fear of people. Coyotes can also become more difficult to scare away when they lose their fear of humans.
Cape resident Peter Samuell, of 415 S.W. 21st St., was working in his front yard one late morning earlier this year when he spotted a coyote walking up from a nearby canal, headed toward the street.
"It quite surprised me," he said. "It was definitely an adult."
A transplant from Arizona, Samuell was certain about what he was seeing.
"Coyote sightings are not every day, but they happen frequently," he said of his former state of residence. "I didn't really know there were coyotes in Florida."
Facts about coyotes
* Coyotes are medium-sized mammals in the same family as dogs, wolves and foxes.
* Coyotes' fur is generally salt-and-pepper gray, with tan or brown patches.
* Coyotes have a thick bushy tail, long pointy nose and pointy ears.
* Adult coyotes weigh between 20 pounds and 35 pounds on average.
* Coyotes are found in several habitat types and are common in rural, suburban and even urban landscapes.
* Coyotes have been known to feed on rodents, rabbits, lizards, snakes, insects, deer fawn, small wild pigs, grasses, fruit, grains, fish, carrion and even livestock.
* Coyotes breed once a year in the winter and litters average six pups.
* Coyotes are more active at dawn and dusk, but can be seen almost any time.
n Coyotes' home ranges typically average 5 to 10 square miles.
To report a coyote attack or encounter, contact (888) 404-3922.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Samuell watched the coyote head west toward Skyline Boulevard and disappear.
"I think it saw me - it looked me way - and then it just went about its business," he said.
The presence of coyotes has reportedly been documented in all 67 counties in Florida.
While coyote numbers appear to have stabilized in the north and central areas of the state, their numbers may continue to increase in South Florida because coyotes reached the area more recently.
"The answer to the problem here is prevention," Gary Morse, a local FWC spokesman, said.
"Don't let them become comfortable in and around human habitation," he said.
Coyotes often go where there is food, and they can be attracted to pet food that is left outdoors. Garbage, or rodents or other animals attracted to the garbage, may be an attraction for coyotes. Keep garbage cans sealed and eliminate other potential sources of food to help avoid attracting them.
"Pet food, bird seed, trash - don't leave it out," Morse said.
The FWC also recommends hazing coyotes with loud noises to encourage fear of humans and protecting small pets as other ways to help minimize nuisance coyote problems in a community.
"Coyotes will prey on cats and small dogs," he said.
On May 20, a coyote attack on a dog was reported in the Cape.
It was about 11:30 p.m. when Mark Smith, of 2810 N.W. Second Place, took his dog outside.
"I had let her outside to go to the bathroom before bed," he said of the half-poodle half-bichon frise named Julie. "When she got to the corner of our yard, she heard something out by the bushes."
There is an open lot next door to Smith's residence with a bushy area.
Just as he drew close to Julie, a coyote jumped out of the bushes.
"At first I thought it was just a dog - I was like 2 feet from her," Smith said.
"It hit her, and she kind of ducked down, and they both rolled," he said.
In a knee-jerk reaction, Smith reached out and hit the coyote.
"That's how close I was to it," he said. "It immediately stopped and my dog ran up to the house."
"I would not recommend anybody do that," Smith added.
At that point, a second coyote appeared from the other side of the home.
"They didn't circle me, but they kind of ran in a circle and growled," he said.
Smith backed away toward his house and the coyotes ran off.
"I have never been that close to them, and the way they acted, it startled me," he said, adding that he had always heard that coyotes were skittish of people. "It happened so quick and I was right there."
Julie was not injured by the coyote.
"It didn't puncture her skin at all," Smith said.
The family now puts the dog on a leash for protection.
"It's a good idea, too, to make a lot of noise. If your go out and make noise and talk, they will more than likely stay away," he said, adding that he does not think the coyotes knew he was there that night.
"They would have grabbed her and been gone," Smith said.
According to Morse, coyote sightings have also been reported outside of the Cape.
"There's a lot more activity in North Fort Myers, right around the Paradise golf course," he said.
Between April and June, there was one recorded coyote attack on a dog in North Fort Myers that the owner of the dog witnessed. Three cats were also reported missing in the area by their owners.
"We can't definitely say coyotes got them, but they are suspected," Morse said of the cats.
Do not allow dogs and cats to roam freely. Be careful if walking a pet in wooded areas or areas where there are a lot plants growing, which could hide coyotes. Keep dogs on a short lease and cats inside.
"If you spot a coyote, you should probably head back to the house," he said.
Picking up a pet will usually deter a coyote, but use caution.
"Never get down on the coyote's level. Don't bend down," Morse said.
"You want to remain large and big," he added.
If a coyote gets closes, use a noisemaker or shout at the coyote and wave your arms. A solid walking stick or golf club can be a detergent, along with throwing stones or spraying it with a water hose.
According to the FWC, several coyote attacks on dogs and cats have been reported over the past few years in Florida. In some of the reported cases, pet owners were present at the time of the attack.
However, no humans have been the target of coyote attacks in Florida.
To report a coyote attack or encounter, call (888) 404-3922.
For more information on coyotes or coyote behavior and tips on how to limit problems with the animals, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Web site: myfwc.com/.