“I managed to keep my dogs with me and they were smart enough to know when they’re in trouble,” McCowen said.
McCowen, the owner of Oscar, a Border collie mix and Sydney, an Australian shepherd mix, got a glimpse of the pack, which she described as well-fed — as if they’d never missed a meal because of their shiny coats. McCowen and the coyotes parted ways without incident, but it was one of several encounters she’s had in which respect for the coyotes was important.
The Reno-Sparks community takes a bipolar view of coyotes. With birthing season beginning usually this time of year, residents of both rural and urban areas may spot more coyotes approaching their properties, so taking precautions and learning how to coexist with coyotes is becoming a concern.
For Trish Swain, the coyote is “the pet dog who is our bridge to nature and teaches us all about nature in the first place.”
Swain, who leads Trail Safe, introduced a presentation at the Nevada Humane Society on Thursday about coyotes and their place in Nevada. Trail Safe is a grassroots group that champions for humane treatment of pets and wildlife in the outdoors.
“We’re spoiled with the wildlife we have (in Nevada), but we get such a sense of entitlement,” Swain said. “We have such a wonderful way of life.”
Swain encourages people to use common sense when co-existing with coyotes and to give respect.
Swain said in 2009, 3,597 coyotes were killed by all lethal means in Nevada. The year before, 22,889 were trapped in the United States by Wildlife Services, the agency contracted by the Department of Wildlife to kill animals. That total, however, does not account for thousands of other coyotes that were poisoned, shot and slain.
According to Camilla Fox of the Project Coyote organization, who gave the main presentation Thursday, understanding coyotes and their significance would help to allay misconceptions about their purpose and place in Nevada.
“No other species is killed in such great numbers,” she said.
Fox said the animals, which are closely related to wolves, are North America’s most common large carnivore. The scavenger animal benefits the ecosystem, Fox said, by consuming lizards, frogs, insects, berries and even watermelons. But they will also forage in residents’ garbage bins and composts for food, which are open welcome mats created by humans if they’re not careful of coyotes around them.
“Like them or hate them, coyotes are here to stay,” Fox said Thursday. “… We ultimately create the fate for these animals in urban landscapes.”
April is coyote birthing season, Fox said. Mothers have a gestation period of 60 to 63 days and litter size is about six pups, though 50 to 70 percent of all pups die from natural causes in their early days. By about nine months, they’re considered adults.
At this time, calls from residents to various animal agencies start pouring in when the first coyote sightings of the season occur, Fox said.
“Coyotes are protecting their den sites,” she said. “So if you considering walking your dogs, you should put them on a leash. By October through December, they’re crossing the landscape looking for mates.”
Coyotes live solitary or in packs. They also have 12 different vocal combinations of yips, yelps, barks and howls. Fox said they’re also genetically robust. But they’re also in danger of being shot, ensnared or poisoned.
“Approximately 500,000 coyotes are killed every year because of their ‘vermin status,’ ” she said. “Whether by aerial gunning, ground shooting, snares or poisons, these are ultimately ineffective. … They’re able to refill themselves.” Reproduction from year to year keeps the coyote species sustainable, she said. Jan Alaksa, a staff member at Animal Ark sanctuary north of Reno who is also a part-time animal keeper and bookkeeper, called coyotes “very bold and very brave.”
“There are great ways that we can live with small predators,” she said. “My solution is definitely not going to the desert and spending money and trying to eradicate them.”
To find out how coyotes affect domestic animals and local reaction about coyote sightings and eradication, read the April 21 edition of the Sparks Tribune’s Pets Place page.