A man walking in Alderfer-Three Sisters Park on May 13 was stunned to see a coyote attempt to lure his two dogs into what he thought was a three-against-two ambush.
Sighting coyotes working in packs in the mountains is extremely unusual, said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Wildlife. Mostly they are solitary creatures, Churchill said.
In the last six months, five people in the Denver area have reported being bitten by coyotes.
“Usually we get one a year,” Churchill said. A coyote being fed by humans at Copper Mountain had to be dispatched after it started approaching kids and nipping at their sleeves.
It’s not unusual for coyotes to try to get dogs to play with them and then turn on them. “They see (dogs) as a threat to the young, and this is a time when the pups are coming out of the den,” Churchill said. “Be aware, and don’t let dogs play with coyotes because they are definitely not just being friendly.”
Threatening encounters with coyotes can almost always be traced to unleashed pets, said John Murphy, district wildlife officer for Evergreen.
“Even if a dog is on a leash, it’s not a good idea to let them go farther than 6 feet,” Murphy said. “Our domestic dogs don’t know a coyote is a wild animal. The coyote sees a dog not as a dog but as an intruder on their territory.”
Jack Wagner lives in Greenwood on the corner of Greenwood Drive and Greenwood Lane, and his house is a couple blocks west of Three Sisters Park. On May 14 he was walking his Orange Belton English setters on their usual path through Three Sisters Open Space Park.
Although Wagner has lived in the area for 20 years and walked the same path almost every day, he has seen coyotes but never had an encounter like this. A large tan and gray coyote weighing about 45 pounds emerged from the woods and stood in the middle of the trail about 20 feet from the dogs. The dogs were 25 feet from Wagner.
“We heard a coyote making a weird, yelping sound. He was trying to pull the dogs out to play with him,” Wagner said.
The dogs, who were not leashed, were weirdly attracted to the creature and started to approach. “They were kind of mesmerized,” Wagner said. “They were trying to figure out the sound and what to do.”
Wagner armed himself with a big stick and was able to lure back the dogs with dog biscuits. As soon as they were under control, two more coyotes came out of hiding.
Wagner had the distinct impression that the dogs were being stalked. “It was set up as an ambush. The two laid low and didn’t let (their presence) be known,” Wagner said.
Although this was Wagner’s first face-to-face, he has heard coyotes howling in the distance in the middle of the night.
Last February, he thought he saw something slinking through the woods near his house as if it was trying to approach some grazing deer and elk.
Last week’s unnerving episode makes Wagner wonder about all the “Lost Dog” and “Lost Cat” signs.
Murphy, the wildlife officer, urged mountain dwellers to “first and foremost protect their pets.” Numerous animals have been lost to predators because they were left outside on property enclosed by an Invisible Fence, he said.
Coyotes aren’t really that interested in dogs as food. They mostly eat mice, voles and ground birds. Murphy said not to confuse coyote behavior with that of wolves, which typically operate in packs.
Murphy was skeptical the coyotes were staging an ambush, saying they probably were just interrupted on a hunting expedition. “During the puppy-raising season, they are amped up. If you are out walking and you see a group of coyotes, it might not be a bad idea to go in another direction.”
If you encounter a coyote …
• Be as big, mean and loud as possible.
• Wave your arms and throw objects at the coyote.
• Shout in a deep, loud and authoritative voice.
• DO NOT RUN or turn your back on the coyote.
• Face the coyote and back away slowly.
• If attacked, fight back with your fists and feet.
Members of the public who encounter an aggressive coyote are encouraged immediately to call 303-291-7227. If the incident occurs after business hours, contact the Colorado State Patrol at 303-239-4501, who will contact a wildlife officer.