An increased number of coyote sightings in Maitland neighborhoods have local residents howling safety concerns for the wellbeing of their small pets and children.
Resident Sharon Broussard of the Greenwood Gardens community started a thread on the neighborhood-based social networking app Nextdoor last month asking if anyone in Maitland had seen coyotes around, after she feared her missing cat Charlie Tuna may have fallen victim to one months earlier. The comments started coming in by the dozen, with other neighbors noting their cats had also recently suspiciously gone missing and others reporting that they’d recently seen packs of coyotes patrolling their backyards.
“It’s scary to me,” she said. “In 28 years living here there’s never been an issue with my indoor-outdoor cats.”
Though she has no proof that Charlie Tuna was taken by one of the roving dog-like animals, just this past week she heard of a neighbor finding a different cat still alive but mauled in their backyard – the work of what they can only assume was a coyote. And, another resident who lives near Lake Catherine posted on the Nextdoor thread that they had video proof of a coyote attacking their family cat earlier this summer.
Lee Atkins, who lives in Maitland Club near Lake Charity, said his chocolate lab Zoe first alerted him to a coyote in his backyard by barking and chasing one off this spring. It was the first time in the nearly 20 years he’s lived in his home that he’d ever seen a coyote. Then two weeks ago, he said, while he was walking his dog at night down the slope of his yard they encountered a pack of three waiting for them down by the lake. Then again, last week, he said one of them returned to his yard in broad daylight.
“It was just looking right at me like, ‘What are you going to do?’” Atkins said.
Since then he’s taken to carrying an aluminum softball bat with him while walking his dog.
In response to the rising concerns of residents regarding the coyotes’ presence, the city of Maitland is partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to host a Coyote Forum on Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall. At the forum, FWC representatives will educate residents about coyotes and answer questions from the audience.
Greg Workman, a spokesman for the FWC, said the epidemic of coyotes impeding on urban neighborhoods, which plagued Winter Park and College Park this time last year, isn’t just a Central Florida issue, but a statewide issue.
“Their population is at a point where their natural habitats are over populated and they’re venturing into more urban areas,” Workman said. “… They’re just encroaching on what used to be theirs.”
Workman said the coyotes often flock to empty lots and wooded areas, where they reproduce quickly and hunt efficiently. When hunting in urban areas, household pets often become their prey.
“If you let your pet go out at night, there’s a good chance they won’t come home if you live in coyote country,” Workman said.
But Broussard said for the nearly three decades she’s lived in her home, she’s let her cats live half-inside and half-outside with no issues, including her now 23-year-old cat who has lived her whole life spending half her time roaming the neighborhood.
“Now I won’t be able to let her do that anymore,” she said. Instead she’s working to have an outdoor enclosure built where her cats experience the outdoors without the threat of coyotes turning them into lunch. “It’s sad that I have to do something like that,” she said.
Workman said the FWC encourages Maitland residents to not only keep their pets in at night, but to also coyote-proof their yards by not leaving food or garbage out over night, or letting any fruit trees leave rotting waste in their lawns. If the coyotes’ food sources dry up, Workman said, the animals are likely to move on to other areas. But, he said, it needs to be a neighborhood effort.
Atkins said he plans to attend the Maitland Coyote Forum to help learn what he can do to deter the coyotes from frequenting his neighborhood.
“But until then,” he said, “I’ll keep walking my dog with my aluminum bat.”