Two and a half years ago, I moved to the Key Peninsula. This is such a beautiful area, I can’t think of any other place prettier that I have been.

However, six weeks after moving in, one of my cats turned up missing, my sweet Matilda. She never ventured far, always wanting mommy in the morning. She loved it here, and her favorite spot 10 feet from the barn was tall grass where she could hide and enjoy the outdoors.

I went around and posted signs. That was when I noticed the other signs. Many other signs. Cats missing here, cats missing there. Everywhere I went, signs about missing cats. I started to worry. Then I heard, late at night while I was out with my coffee looking at the stars, something I never heard before: Yip, yip, yooooooo! I have since found out that that is the distinctive cry of the coyote.

My neighbors, who own the 40 acres across the street, raise peacocks, guinea fowl, geese, ducks, chickens, cows, miniature donkeys, and also board horses. They are the ones who told me about coyotes coming through our area all the time, especially at night. They surmised my cat was dinner, which happens a lot, they said.

We live about 2 miles south of Wauna. In Wauna, at the Minter Creek Veterinary Hospital, coyotes live next door, according to staff. In the Lake Kathryn area, if you venture down into the woods, you will find trails and dens. I would not recommend going down there, by the way; supposedly there are many dens, it’s a coyote condo area. Staff at Purdy Veterinary and Brookside couldn’t report any injuries or deaths to pets; seems the coyotes like the area between Wauna and Minter Creek. They seem to know where and when to travel to keep out of sight, which is good for all — us and them.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, coyotes are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and vegetation. For meat, they mostly eat voles, mice and rats, small mammals that we consider nuisances. However, that means also cats. A coyote will see a cat as a large rat. Coyotes also eat berries, grass, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds. Sometimes pet food, garden crops and garbage. Livestock and poultry, too.

Coyote tracks look like the prints of a medium-sized domestic dog, but with a longer stride. Trails are usually found along draws, fences or game and livestock trails, next to roads, in the middle of dirt country roads and on ridge tops. If you see a pile of rabbit fur, you are looking at what is left of last night’s dinner.

Their calls are woofs and growls for short-distance threat and alarm calls; lone and group howls are given between separated group members when food has been found, and a yip-howl (like the ones I always hear) is often done after a group reunites. Pups are born in spring, and in summer they are trying out their voices.

Most coyotes only live four years and vast majorities die in their first year. They are highly intelligent and have adapted well to humans living in their world.

This is where you need to take charge. If you have heard or seen coyotes in your area, make sure you police your house and yard, that you have no garbage lying around, keep bushes pruned (mice hiding places for coyotes to chase up to your front door), don’t feed your animals outside, and don’t use animal products in your compost. Improper composting causes huge animal control problems. Never leave children unattended. A 5-foot fence can keep a coyote out of an area, but some can climb and an overhang may be necessary. All fences should extend 6 inches below the surface to prevent digging. An electric fence set 8 inches high and about 6 inches in front of an existing fence will deter coyotes. (Consult your local zoning office and neighborhood covenants to determine whether electric fences are permitted in your area.) Inspect fences weekly. Also, don’t use remote pastures if coyotes have been reported recently. You can use guard dogs to help. Llamas and donkeys have also been successfully used to guard animals.

Coyotes shouldn’t be feared. You just need to know how to co-exist. If anyone is bitten or injured by a coyote (including pets), clean the wound with soap and water, and contact your physician and the local health department immediately. Rabies has not been found in any coyote populations in Washington, but Canine Distemper and Parvovirus have. These diseases are both deadly to dogs, so make sure your pets’ vaccinations are up to date. You never know when a coyote will make a deposit on your property for your dog to find.

I still miss Matilda every day, but now I know to make sure all my pets are in the house at night — every night. I taped my cat door shut, no longer to be used. My son knows better than to wander around the pasture at night, he’s heard the yips as well. He’s a smart kid.

Remember that it’s a crime to poison the animals or use explosives. If you have a problem animal — usually only if the coyote has lost its fear of humans, which is rare — you need to contact the Department of Fish and Wildlife to check for licenses and approval. If you need an animal to be removed, they can give you a list of trappers who can do the job, at your cost.

You can contact the Department of Fish and Wildlife at 360-9902-2515 or email wildthing@dfw.wa.gov.

Other sources:
Washington Revised Codes regarding trapping regulations, www.leg.wa.gov. See RCW 9.41.170, 9.41.185, 9.41.190, 77.15.150, 77.15.196
Coyote information and facts: http://wdfw.wa.gov.

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