In a matter of 30 seconds on the late morning of Oct. 1, Hornsby witnessed an unforgettable act and, within a few days, began trying to warn her Spanish Springs neighbors and fellow members of the community about potential outdoor dangers.
“I was already yelling at the dogs to stop barking so (the coyote) knew I was there and he came over anyway,” Hornsby said. “The dogs knew it was dangerous so they stayed back away from the fence, but that didn’t matter because of how fast he came over. He cleared that fence and I saw him clear the other fence with (her dog) Killer in his mouth. I couldn’t move fast enough and I was just shocked when it happened.”
Hornsby began reaching out to the community using AlertID, an online application designed to help community citizens warn one another of anything they find concerning or alarming. Hornsby shared the tragic story of her dog, Killer, with as many people as she could reach, and began hearing other accounts from Spanish Springs residents whose pets had been taken as well. Her concern continued to grow, but for more than just the animals.
“I am afraid the coyotes are going to start attacking children,” she said. “Maybe they can’t take a small kid, but they can definitely hurt them because this was not a small coyote. This was a big, alpha-male coyote that was the size of a German Shepherd police dog.”
The situation was first presented to Nevada Department of Wildlife in August when reports began surfacing across the Reno-Sparks area. Chris Healy, public information officer for NDOW, said the amount of housing being placed near open areas of land brings challenges to the removal of predators like coyotes.
“The area that is the epicenter of the problem is right near a huge chunk of the housing developments,” Healy said. “Cases like this are very difficult to solve because it is right where people live.”
Healy said the field near Disc Drive in Sparks plays home to packs of coyotes that are entering homes in the Spanish Springs area. He said a coyote’s ability to adapt to their surroundings over a short period of time has pushed the sightings of them much higher.
“When you live in these urban interface areas, where the country and city come together, coyotes are always a concern because they adapt to the surrounding housing areas and are able to live in those neighborhoods,” Healy said. “We certainly are addressing the problem and we have called in the experts to help us eradicate them.”
The experts are from the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, who have been working closely with NDOW on solving the coyote problem in Sparks. Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Jack Spencer, of USDA Wildlife Services, said the attacks have grown during the last few months totaling almost 40 attacks on dogs.
“The coyote population is at its height right now because they are getting their pups ready for winter,” Spencer said. “Because there is no shooting or hunting in those urban areas, they do not fear us anymore. We provide an anthropogenic food source for them and they are bold, so they will come in and take, lately, a lot of dogs.”
Spencer said his department is working hard to remove specific coyotes that are the major source of dog targeting. He said the USDA Wildlife Services will be working on “non-lethal solutions” to the coyote problem and that removing them is a long, extensive process.
“It’s hard removing them in these urban areas and in some areas it is impossible,” Spencer said. “It is a very surgical process that takes a lot of man hours just to extract one coyote. We are working on those efforts but the most important thing is to get the word out to the neighborhoods about the problem.”
Healy said the coyotes are likely not to leave the area until they are forced to by weather conditions. Spencer said coyote-proofing yards and taking proactive measures with dogs is the best solution for to the problem at hand.
“They have the ability to leap over six-foot fences but most of the time they go under,” Spencer said. “People need to make sure their fences are well built underground, as well as being tall, and that if their pet uses an outdoor dog house or kennel that it has a sturdy roof. People should not be leaving their dog doors open and when they let them outside they should accompany them. It is more inconvenient, of course, but it is the best way to ensure their safety.”