Sightings of coyotes in Fulton County have spooked some residents and left them anxious about their pets’ safety.
But while, under some circumstances, there could be reason for concern, the animal receives a worse reputation than it deserves, an Ohio wildlife official and the county’s dog warden suggested.
In fact, a coyote is a shy, even skittish nocturnal beast, and would rather be anywhere other than around a human or a dog, said Josh Zientek, Fulton County’s state wildlife officer with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
“It’s totally afraid of people. Typically, it’s going to run the other way,” he said. “As far as human safety, you have more chance of being attacked by your neighbor’s dog than by a coyote.”
While not native to Ohio, coyotes roam all of the state’s 88 counties. Their numbers in Fulton County are considered average, and because the county’s human population is less than some other counties the coyotes there are dispersed evenly throughout.
A coyote resembles a lean, medium-sized dog, and can be mistaken for a shepherd breed. It is usually gray in color and can weigh up to 50 pounds, although a typical size is 25-30 pounds. It’s also what Zientek calls an “opportunist,” taking advantage of food where it can find it. It can be attracted to both roadkill and pet food left out in a yard.
And while its diet consists of small mammals and rodents, “they are very adaptive. They’ve learned to adapt in urban environments. They can pretty much survive anywhere in the state,” he said.
That said, Zientek is unaware of anyone in Fulton County ever being attacked by a coyote, and reports of attacks on livestock – which the animal considers too large for prey – are virtually non-existent. Any reported livestock incidents have usually occurred during the spring and summer, when the adults teach their young how to hunt.
As for small pets, Zientek said it’s good to take some caution, although a coyote is as frightened of dogs as it is of humans.
“If a pet dog wanders into coyote territory there’s a chance they’ll get attacked, but it’s very minimal,” he said. “Just be mindful these animals are out there. If you let your small pet out, attend them.”
Typically, when a coyote encounters a human it will run, Zientek said. “If it’s not afraid of you, most likely it’s sick, so just turn and walk away,” he added. If they’re seen at all during daylight hours, it’s usually at dawn or dusk.
Fulton County Dog Warden Brian Banister doesn’t get many calls or complaints about coyotes, but when he does he refers them to Zientek. If and when necessary, however, he will respond to calls and take proper action, “but we’ve never had that scenario happen,” he said.
Banister said there may be as many as one coyote per square mile in the county, but, as a habit, they avoid people.
“They’re scared to death of humans, and they’ll do anything necessary to avoid contact with them,” he said. “(And) I have never yet had a confirmed coyote kill on a domestic pet in this county. If people see one, don’t be alarmed. But they still need to be mindful of their pets and take precautions.”
A coyote is also a loner, Banister said, and does not usually travel with others. They can sometimes be seen during the daytime and in pairs during breeding season in January and February, and in multiples during summer months when their pups are being raised.
In his experience, coyotes can develop mange or distemper, but contracting rabies in this part of the state is unlikely.
Banister said that, while wary, a coyote is a smart, cunning, and fast animal that can cover huge distances very quickly.
“People don’t understand them. There’s a food chain in the wild, and they’re scavengers.”
And while they don’t pose a real threat to humans, they’re hunted year-round in an effort to control their population.
“They have always had a presence here,” Banister said. “In the last 25 years their population has increased, but they’ve been here for many years.”
Zientek said because coyotes are mistakenly placed in the same category as wolves, their reputation suffers.
“They’re no different than any other wild animal,” he said. “They’re scared of humans. They’re here, and they’re not going anywhere, and there’s no reason for people to be alarmed by them.“
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.