“Coyote” attacks: uncertainty is a fact – but focus needs to be on prevention

A worried family is waiting for news on whether or not their beloved pet will survive an animal attack that took place earlier this week in Mississauga, Ontario, and debate on what species the culprits were is swirling heavily.

While on a walk with his 69-year-old owner, 15-pound Kobe (a Shih-Tzu-Chinese Crested mix) was approached and grabbed by one of two larger animals. In the struggle to free Kobe, who had been on an extendable leash, his owner received multiple bite wounds to her hands.

Eventually Kobe was dropped and the two animals ran off. He remains in veterinary care and his future is uncertain.

In the media coverage that followed the incident, Kobe’s owner indicated she believed the two animals to be coyotes. But animal control reported having received multiple complaints of two German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) roaming the neighbourhood that day. In the GoFundMe page set up to support Kobe, family members referred to the animals who attacked him as GSDs. Yet the newspaper headline and early portions of the article made no note of the GSDs and presumed the animals were coyotes.

The simple truth is that uncertainty can be a fact, too, in reporting. We don’t know what the animals were. Our belief is that these were likely domestic dogs, due to the multiple other reports of a pair of GSDs roaming the neighbourhood, and the lack of reports of coyotes. But we could spend hours debating historical incidents (such as the OPP officer who killed a GSD thinking it was a coyote), behavioural models of free roaming dogs, and the media’s natural inclination to sensationalize. That won’t help Kobe, however, and it won’t help the German Shepherds or coyotes of the area.

Instead, we can look at how to prevent conflict for families walking dogs when they come across other dogs, coyotes, or any other wildlife:

  • Keep dogs on a standard leash when possible. A 4 to 6-foot leash gives you greater control over the movement of your dog and can help in quickly quelling potential conflict.
  • Many dogs are leash reactive. While your dog may want to meet and have a friendly hello with every dog they see, a lot of dogs don’t feel the same way. It’s best to assume that a meet-and-greet is a no-go unless otherwise stated.
  • Use off-leash areas appropriately. Many areas are designated as off-leash zones, either open or fenced. Be aware of where your dog is while in the off-leash zone. If your dog isn’t returning when called, leash them immediately.
  • Don’t run away from canids. Whether it’s a dog or a coyote (or you’re not sure), don’t run away. All canids have a chase drive – that is, they have an instinct to chase things running away from them. Instead, if a canid is advancing and making you uncomfortable make yourself large, wave your arms, and yell (but don’t scream).
  • Pick up small children or pets if approached by larger animals. Picking up small children or pets gives you a better opportunity to protect them from play, defensive, or aggressive behaviours.
  • Don’t feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife – from squirrels to coyotes – makes them more likely to come into conflict with other people, even if you never see the consequences yourself.

Keeping these simple tips in mind can keep everyone safe – neighbours, family, pets, and wildlife. And that’s what co-existence is all about.

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