The first time Ann Taylor knew there was a coyote in her neighborhood was when a neighbor found his mangled cat in his front yard.
Since that time, about a year ago, her neighbor has lost another cat, and a small dog, and 12 more cats, including Taylor’s two, have disappeared from her neighborhood in Plantation Pointe.
One of Taylor’s cats was feral and lived outside. The other, which she also adopted, was an indoor-outdoor cat.
“I let her out early one morning and she was gone,” Taylor said. “I found her collar. That was all.”
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The Landing at Plantation Pointe is not the only neighborhood in Horry County that has found itself as a home, if only temporary, for coyotes.
The Surfside Beach town council authorized town staff to hire coyote trappers to get rid of some of the canines that some residents had seen for about six months in a wooded area between Fourth and Fifth Avenues South.
Taylor called Surfside officials after hearing about its problem and talked with officials at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. From Surfside, she got the name of a trapper.
“But the problem is somebody has to pay for it,” she said.
Jay Butfiloski, furbearer project manager with DNR, said that modern neighborhoods usually have areas that can be habitats for coyotes. Natural areas, green spaces and golf courses are common along the Grand Strand and have the potential to have the kind of prey – mice, for instance – that coyotes prefer.
Coyotes were first documented in South Carolina in the Upstate in 1978. Since then, they’ve spread to all the state’s 46 counties.
They tend to avoid humans, because as Butfiloski says, humans shoot them, and he knows of only one case in the state where a human was attacked. He said it happened to an 8-year-old girl waiting on a school bus in the Spartanburg area.
The coyote that attacked was found and tested positive for rabies, which could be the reason for the attack.
Coyotes have been known to go after small dogs that are being walked by their owners. Butfiloski said he believes that those coyotes are so keenly-focused on potential prey that it overrides their natural fear of humans.
But coyotes aren’t normally dangerous to humans.
Butfiloski said he only knows of two instances in the U.S. where coyotes have killed people. Ever.
Large dogs kill 10 to 12 people each year, he said.
The state allows people to kill coyotes throughout the year, but most municipalities have laws against discharging firearms in their corporate limits. In those cases, residents will have to trap and destroy the coyotes as it is illegal to transport them to other areas and release them.
But trapping can be iffy. Coyotes are smart and won’t be lured easily into a trap.
And, besides, if you get rid of those currently in your area, others are likely to move in eventually.
“In a lot of cases,” Butfiloski said, “people are going to have to modify their behavior.”
He said people shouldn’t leave pet food outside all night. If a pet must be fed outdoors, any leftover food should be discarded before dark. And people who can should bring small pets indoors at night.
Developments such as Taylor’s can help to deter coyotes by clearing out areas that are clogged with underbrush.
“Try to make it uncomfortable for them,” Butfiloski said.
Taylor takes her two small dogs walking in her neighborhood and will no longer let them be alone in her fenced yard at night. She could take a stick walking with her, just in case.
Also, coyotes can be scared off by humans yelling at them and making themselves look as big as possible.
Taylor, a retired teacher, has taught herself about coyotes and realizes that people need to learn to live with them because getting rid of them is likely impossible.
Micki Fellner, Surfside town administrator, said the town no longer has any reported problems with coyotes.
“They moved on because we were doing too much trapping in their neighborhood,” she said.
Should more be sighted in the city limits, she said she’d talk with council members about how to respond.
“I think peaceful coexistence is the right thing,” Fellner said, “unless they’re becoming aggressive.”