According to the MSPCA there are over 12,000 coyotes in Massachusetts. To hear some alarmists in Wellesley tell it, they all live here in town and local government needs to come up with a plan to cull or relocate them. The reasoning goes something like this:
- coyotes aren’t happy in such a densely populated area, so they should be moved along
- sooner or later, there’s going to be a human fatality at the paws of coyotes, and then we’ll all be sorry
- they attack and kill pets
- they attack and kill chickens
There are a few reasons why people are the problem, not coyotes in Massachusetts.
We’re the ones who have encroached on coyote habitat, forcing coyotes to live in closer proximity to humans. A little over 2,000 of Wellesley’s total of 6,720 acres of land is open space. 60% of those 2k acres are privately owned, and therefore not protected, which can, and has, led to more development in town.
With an increase in development and population, there have been more interactions between coyotes and people. Residents have reported being chased, stalked, and intimidated by the assertive animals to Animal Control Officer Jenny Smith. Smith encourages residents to haze a coyote by “physically chasing it out of the yard, spraying it with a hose, making loud noises by banging pots and pans or blowing an air horn, and throwing small objects like a tennis ball with the intent to frighten not injure.”
But after paying upward of $1.5mil for their piece of Wellesley heaven, many residents feel like they should be able to walk the streets and enjoy their backyard without living in fear. Even though 85% of the Wellesley adults 25 years or older have a bachelors degree or more, they don’t love being lectured about the issue.
So about that fear. It’s not entirely misplaced. Coyotes are opportunistic killers, and if the opportunity arises, they can and do kill small dogs and cats. As long as someone in town has a story to tell about losing their beloved family pet to the jaws of a coyote—and those stories are not uncommon—the “kill the coyotes” contingent will be vocal.
Humans fare better during encounters. There have been fewer than 25 documented attacks over the past 25 years. In fact, you’re more likely to be one of the 17k people bitten by a dog in Massachusetts in 2022. Nobody talks about relocating Luna (Wellesley’s most popular dog name) after a biting incident. Luna just gets home quarantined for ten days. It’s highly unlikely that animal control will seize or put down your aggressive, biting dog. You’ll more likely be faced with paying court-ordered damages over the incident. There’s no payout after a coyote bite.
Coyotes have their defenders, especially when the word “cull” starts getting tossed about. Coyotes have their own ideas about how many of them a territory can support (about one adult per 10 square miles), and manage their numbers accordingly. In good times, only the dominant pair in a pack is permitted to reproduce. But when the pack’s numbers dwindle, whether due to human intervention, food insecurity, or disease, everybody in the pack gets to join the party and have babies.
One person’s report on being “chased” by a coyote is another person’s observation that they were “escorted” away by an animal who is trying to keep humans away from their den and cubs. So if a coyote approaches you, make a lot of noise as you move away from the area. Don’t run, and keep calm. Some people carry a whistle or an airhorn when walking in areas where there’s been known coyote activity.
The final, dirty little secret is that some people aren’t helping. Some people feed coyotes, a practice which endangers us all. Once a coyote gets used to humans, look out. Because when they no longer see us as a threat, that doesn’t mean they’re going to get all “good doggie” and move in for snuggles. When they no longer see us as a threat, they’re more likely to visit human spaces on the regular and, because they are still wild animals, behave unpredictably.
Animal assistance resources
- For help with animal bites or rabies quarantines, contact the Wellesley Health Department
- For help with lost pets or animals needing immediate assistance, contact Wellesley Police Department dispatch at 781-235-1212
- For questions about pet health/behavior or to report animal cruelty, please contact the Animal Rescue League of Boston
- For help with injured or problematic wildlife, please contact Tufts Wildlife Clinic or Problem Animal Control