By TAYLOR HARTZ
When Dave Denino began seeing packs of coyotes along the wood line of his property near Panthorn Park, he was concerned that the coyote community had grown in his neighborhood.
He heard reports of neighborhood children encountering the dogs, heard howls from across LaCorse Pond at night, and began to see packs of coyotes roaming the streets in the daylight.
To take precaution, Denino stayed close to his six-year-old Yorkipoo, Auggie, on their nighttime outings. On the evening of May 15, he turned his back for just a few moments in his yard on Miller Farm Road, and his family dog disappeared.
“Our neighborhood is being terrorized,” said Denino, whose dog has been missing for two weeks. “Everyone is frightened.”
His neighborhood, between LaCorse Pond and Panthorn Park by the Wolcott border, is listed on a Natural Diversity Data Base Areas map published by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in 2014 as an area with populations of state and federal listed species and significant natural communities.
After a neighbor told him that in a matter of minutes her dog also disappeared from her front porch, Denino became concerned that the coyotes in his neighborhood are “aggressively seeking out small creatures.”
Since his dog’s disappearance, he has been working with local animal control officials and Pack Leader Pet Tracking based in Rhode Island to locate the dog, but officials with the tracking service believe that coyotes are to blame, and his pet will not be found.
Despite no evidence of a dramatic coyote increase, the neighborhood near Panthorn Park is experiencing what seems to be a more intrepid population. Denino had even seen a coyote napping in the driveway of his home in the middle of the day.
DEEP warns residents to take extra caution of any coyote exhibiting “bold behavior” such as attacking pets with their owners, chasing or cornering humans, or showing any signs of rabies such as seizing or staggering.
The department lists coyotes as a species that have expanded their range and are common throughout the state, using a variety of habitats including wooded suburbs.
DEEP describes coyotes as animals with an “opportunistic nature” that are able to survive in “man-made” habitats – such as office parks and beach fronts, which may result in more sightings and increased conflicts.
While there is an extremely low risk of a coyote attacking a person, reports of coyotes killing small pets have increased in recent years, according to DEEP. The department’s website said that it is imperative to keep animals on leashes or fenced in to prevent attacks from the territorial dog.
Chris Vann, of the DEEP Wildlife Division, said the state receives over 200 coyote complaints each year, with regular calls of attacks on domestic animals. Vann said the Southington community seems to have more recent conflicts than surrounding towns, and that state-wide “the problem remains at a heightened level.”
David Ireland, an Animal Control Officer in Southington for 27 years, said that the Southington Animal Control Department receives calls about coyotes weekly, but coyote reports have been steady in Southington, following a spike eight to ten years ago.
Ireland said there has been no notable increase in coyote reports this year, but when it comes to black bears, “those calls are going way up.”
As of May 18, the DEEP reported 24 black bear sightings in Southington in just under a year, and 4439 total in the state.
Four of those sightings occurred in the backyard of Robert Daunis on Mariondale Drive, who saw a mother black bear and three cubs come out of the woods and pass through his yard on the evening of May 18. The cubs trailed the mother into the street, where she was frightened by cars and retreated to the woods, said Dunais.
Dunais said he has also had two coyote and fox sightings in his back yard recently,
“I’m a little nervous being out there alone at night,” he said.
Dunais’ property is located just two miles from Denino’s, on the other side of Panthorn Park.
The DEEP says that in recent years, a resident population of black bears has been established in the state, with bears wandering into heavily populated residential areas.
Ireland said that bear populations are increasing overall, and the animals are adapting to humans so the distance between their habitats and residential areas is decreasing. The increase in bear sightings may also be attributed to the harsh, long winter, said Ireland – the longer they are in hibernation the hungrier they will be in the spring.
While the Mount Vernon area has typically had a heavier wildlife population, “the other side of town is catching up,” said Ireland.
Along with bear reports, bobcat sightings have increased this year, shifting from semi-regular reports near the Lincoln College campus, to more sightings in various areas throughout town. Bobcats tend to be seen closer to heavily wooded areas, but have recently been seen moving away from the mountains, said Ireland.
The bobcat is the only wild cat found in Connecticut and numbers appear to have increased in recent years, with bobcats now recorded in all eight counties in the state, based on DEEP’s public observations and tracking reports of 20-30 bobcats killed in vehicle accidents on state roadways annually.
The DEEP website offers tips and information for how to handle an encounter with any of these wild animals, and recommends making your presence known if you encounter a coyote, black bear, or bobcat.
The DEEP website guidelines explain that in the event of a sighting, you should attempt to frighten an animal away with loud noises and aggressive actions such as waving your arms, throwing sticks or spraying the animal with water.
In any encounter, the department recommends walking away slowly, keeping your pet under control, and never turning your back to the animal or climbing a tree.
The DEEP also promotes their “Be Bear Aware” campaign, where they offer printable posters for public display, listing ways to prevent conflicts in the event of a bear encounter.
When bears and other wildlife are spotted, residents are encouraged to remove bird feeders and eliminate attractive foods such as outdoor garbage cans and un-cleaned grills and pet food outside their homes, and to avoid cooking or keeping food in or near tents when camping.
For all sightings and disturbances, the DEEP accepts reports over the phone and online, and recommends the use of Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers (NWCO.)
NWCO’s are individuals who offer services for handling nuisance wildlife problems – although not employed by the DEEP, they follow the departments policies, regulations and procedures when handling conflicts that involve wild animals posing a threat to human or domestic animal safety or property damage.
Thomas Pepe of Suburban Wildlife Solutions is the only NWCO in Southington, and the only Connecticut researcher to radio-collar and track coyote populations. Pepe’s research, begun just over a decade ago in a fellowship with Southern Connecticut State University, tracked coyotes in the Cheshire and Southington communities.
Pepe said that overall wildlife in the area is increasing, largely due to vast land development in Southington over the last decade. While bears and bobcat sightings are becoming more common as the animals are pushed into more residential areas. Coyotes are actually thriving.
Pepe explained that the dogs studied in his research were “very adaptable” and will adjust to more suburban habitats while having as many as seven pups per year that will adjust just as rapidly to suburban prey, most commonly domestic pets.
While land development may cause the populations to increase, Pepe said it is nearly impossible to decrease or relocate the wildlife habitats that have formed in suburban Southington.
Pepe said that his services in wildlife solutions encourage residents in communities with high populations to follow the guidelines suggested by DEEP – of securing property and protecting small animals and children. “These animals aren’t going away,” said Pepe. “To co-exist is the only answer.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Hartz, email her at THartz@SouthingtonObserver.com.