North Vancouver citizen Jessica Donegan used to walk the local trails knowing her nine-pound Chihuahua Rat Terrier mix, Linus, is nothing but an easy meal for coyotes. Not so much these days. Donegan has outfitted Linus with a Coyote vest, a jacket spiked with hard plastic that makes Linus look like a whimsical rock star — and helps him stay safe from predators for whom he is an easy prey.
Donegan, who runs a company called ‘A Walk in the Park Pet Care’, says she has never encountered coyotes while walking on North Shore trails, but she has heard enough stories that she wanted to be safe rather than sorry. A Google search for how to keep pets safe introduced her to the Coyote vest, a brainchild of Paul Mott, a San Diego-based dog owner who came up with the idea after his dog was killed by coyotes. Its purpose, Mott says, is to slow down or prevent a surprise attack and give the dog owners enough time to react before a wild animal can inflict serious harm on the pet.
If a coyote ever eyes Linus, Donegan hopes that is exactly what will happen. “Linus always wears his vest when he is out with me, and that gives me peace of mind and allows Linus to run freely. When people see Linus on the trails in his vest, their first reaction is usually to laugh; he looks amusing and it is definitely a conversation starter. I tell people that it is both ‘fashion and function’. A few of our clients have bought the vest after I told them about it, and I think anyone who hikes with a small dog should get one,” she says.
One of those clients is West Vancouver citizen Cynthia Boyd, who bought coyotes vests for both her dogs, Henry and Chloe, at Donegan’s suggestion. Boyd lives in upper Ambleside and says she is worried about the increasing problem of aggressive coyotes in West Vancouver.
Boyd says the coyotes are aggressive and seem to have no fear of humans. “Two weeks ago I almost lost my dog as one came right into my driveway. It was very close and scary. Two were seen walking up the street from West Van High at 8 am right when all the kids are going to school. So clearly they have no fear,” she says.
Boyd says the coyote just stood there, standing still, looking at her. “I stared back at the coyote and it couldn’t care less. I was able to leave my dog in the yard alone but not anymore. I had never seen a coyote here when I first moved in but now we are seeing them more often. My neighbour said she saw three of them recently and one of them was a really aggressive alpha male,” she says.
Boyd says she is now spending extra to have a bigger fence so her dogs can roam around the yard. She is also disappointed at how the district has handled her complaints about the aggressive coyotes. She is asked to get in touch with the Stanley Park Ecology Society, who have steered her towards literature on how to co-exist with the wild animals. They have also suggested she carry an empty can with stones whose rattle can scare away the coyotes, an idea she finds preposterous.
“In Banff, they take food to draw the coyotes back in the wilderness, and they need to try something like that here. Something horrible is going to happen because we have coyotes that keep multiplying and something needs to be done,” Boyd says.
Last year, another West Vancouver citizen wrote to the District asking them to spread awareness and provide more information about what residents can do about aggressive and seemingly fearless coyotes in the community. The citizen said she had seen a marked increase in aggressive coyotes and wrote after one of her cats was killed by a coyote. What is concerning is that coyotes don’t seem to fear humans and are being seen more often in the community, especially in some parts of West Vancouver.
“Whenever I used to see them, they used to run away but they are no longer running away, and I have seen them numerous times in the day time on busy roads. Twice in the last month, I have been out in the garden and a coyote walked into the yard. When I yelled, the coyote made eye contact but didn’t back down so I came back into the home,” she said. The resident said she was especially worried about the risk to young children with coyotes that keep coming into our residential yards.
Some residents have gone to the extent of suggesting they be culled. But studies show that is an ineffective way of dealing with the problem, says Ariane Comeau, Conservation Project Manager at Stanley Park Ecology Society. Comeau says removing them can exacerbate the issue and result in more coyotes in an area than in the first place.
“If some coyotes are removed, it opens up a territory for other coyotes to move in. This is why we focus on long-term education. We provide individuals and neighbourhoods the information they need to change coyote behaviour to prevent conflict between people and coyotes,” she says.
Coyotes, she says, are not naturally dangerous or aggressive to people. In fact, most are very timid and have an innate fear of people. It is when people teach coyotes not to be afraid of them, by ignoring, or worse, feeding them, that they stop fearing people and become more comfortable around people.
Actual incidents of human-coyote conflict that result in injury or harm are very rare in Vancouver. The majority of attacks are a result of people feeding coyotes directly and these coyotes may approach children for food. This is why it is important that children and adults alike are aware of how to interact with them.
Comeau says the society recommends keeping cats indoors at all times, and toddlers should be supervised, especially in areas with known habituated coyote activity. If someone encounters a coyote that is now too comfortable around humans, is acting aggressively, or stalking, they should contact the BC Ministry of Environment at 1-877-952-7277.
However, that may not be much comforting for citizens like Donegan or Boyd, who are finding new ways to protect their pets from the coyotes — by getting them to wear vests or by simply raising the fence to prevent coyotes from making their pets into their next meal.