What Was That 4-Legged Critter?

By Jeff Mill
CROMWELL, CT–That four-legged blur that flashed by your car while you were en route to work last week. Was it really a coyote?

More than likely the answer is yes, said Cheryl Gagnon, the town’s animal control officer. “We have coyotes everywhere, all over town.” But it’s not a question of coyotes suddenly invading town, she said. “They have been here even when we didn’t know they were here.I’m aware that coyotes have been in this town since the early 1980s,” one veteran police officer recalled.

However, “because there is such a surge in building now, you’re seeing them everywhere,” Gagnon said. “We’re just seeing more of them because we are disrupting their homes, their dens.”

Police Chief Anthony J. Salvatore said he was looking out his kitchen window last week when he saw one saunter by. “There’s nothing wrong with seeing a coyote,” Gagnon said. And yet, just seeing a coyote can cause a tremor of anxiety among some people, she acknowledged.

‘The biggest thing people worry about is a coyote attacking their child,” Gagnon said. And yet, she said, “a healthy coyote won’t even bother you. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” Still, Gagnon encouraged residents to give coyotes a wide berth. If you do see a coyote, if you make a noise it will usually run away. But if you do make a noise and it doesn’t leave,” Gagnon said, “then you should go back inside and call the police.”

A coyote looks like a small to medium dog, and can run from 15 to 45 pounds. If they are in good health, they usually have a full coat of brownish or gray hair. Coyotes have two distinguishing marks: their ears stand straight up, and they have a long bushy tail that is usually black on the tip. The tail points down,” Gagnon said, unlike dogs whose tails can be up when they run.

Coyotes primarily travel as a family, she continued. You will usually see an adult male and female and maybe a few pups. However, they tend to be solitary hunters. “Most of the time, you will see only one of them,” Gagnon said.

Coyotes are not the only wildlife that inhabits Cromwell. In the parts out in the western edge of town in particular, it is not uncommon to see deer, Wild Turkeys, foxes, and Raccoons as well as coyotes, Salvatore said. “We’re still very fortunate in Cromwell to have a lot of open space, particularly on the west side of town that will never be developed because of the highways,” the chief said.

Sometimes the interactions between humans and wildlife go awry. Of course there are accidents involving deer, Gagnon said. But she also remembered one incident in which a Wild Turkey got into a house in town, and of course became frantic trying to get back outside.

When those interactions do go wrong, it is usually the animal that loses, Gagnon admitted. State law prevents any effort to relocate wildlife, because it disrupts existing territorial patterns, she explained.

Sightings of wild animals have increased as development has increased in town, Gagnon said. And as more of more of the town is developed, those sightings will become more common, too. “Ultimately, we have moved into their backyard,” she said. “So I do expect to see more sightings because of all the building that that is going on in town.”

Coyotes are very adaptable, Gagnon said. Not only can their change their locations as development intrudes, but they can change much more: what and when and where they sleep and eat, for instance. Usually, they eat small mammals, she said. But if the need arises, they will switch to eating fruits, insects, birds and even frogs, she said.

Coyotes have shown a predilection for domestic cats, Salvatore noted. At present, there is no predator that intrudes on the coyote except man, Gagnon said. And yet, that can be a blessing–for people, she suggested.

“As with all wildlife, they should be observed and respected,” Gagnon said. “But if you’re in your house and you see a coyote in your backyard, or indeed any wild animal, go to the window and look,” Gagnon said. “And teach your kids to respect them.” –Middletown Press