By Charles Frost
NEWBURY — Last week, Laura Hanlon's husband put their two dogs, Riley and Eddie, outside at 6:30 a.m., just like they had been doing for years at their property on Scotland Road.
Minutes later, Laura, her husband and her visiting brother found themselves running outside to ward off a coyote who had crept into their yard and begun to chase Eddie, their Australian cattle dog mix.
Hanlon, equipped with an air horn and her husband's golf club, called for Riley to come inside and he immediately ran back into the house. Hanlon continued into the woods searching for Eddie, who she said is more protective and who might have been chasing the coyote off the property.
After 20 minutes in the woods, Hanlon found Eddie, but didn't realize until later when she saw blood seeping through Eddie's fur that he had been attacked.
"When I retrieved him, I was very concerned," Hanlon said. "I know one coyote was seen by my husband and they blend in very well with the woods. I felt like it was probably still there. Had I known it had attacked my dog, I would have been even more fearful (that it might attack me)."
Eddie survived after being brought to the Amesbury Animal Hospital, where they shaved his hair off, revealing at least five wounds, including what Hanlon called "two pretty large" ones and "one very large" gash, which was larger than a half dollar.
Eddie was placed on anesthesia, and draining tubes were put into the wounds for several days before he was placed on antibiotics and painkillers.
Newbury animal control officer Carol Larocque said coyotes are virtually never a threat to humans but thinks the attack on the dog may have been a territorial issue, citing the fact that coyotes may have their young now and would want to protect them.
"People don't realize how much wildlife is out there; there are an awful lot of coyotes," Larocque said. "They are running out of environment, so now they have to live amongst us. I know that right down the street from me there is a pack of like 14 coyotes, and there's quite a few up by Scotland Road. They're just all over."
Larocque said a coyote looks like a cross between a fox and a wolf, and they have a variety of different colors.
The coyote attack was not the first sighting that Hanlon and her husband have had on their property. Having lived there for the past 12 years, Hanlon said they have seen two coyotes, with one sighting occurring last March in the woods behind their house.
"It stood there and stared at our dogs," Hanlon said. "We were concerned."
Following the sighting, Hanlon contacted the animal control officer, who told her that coyotes are prevalent in the area and they likely had dens in the woods around their house. The officer also told them that this time of year is mating season, and coyotes can be more aggressive when protecting a pregnant coyote or a litter of pups.
Hanlon said she still didn't ever expect to see one in her yard.
"I understand the area we are in is difficult," Hanlon said. "Not only is there a healthy population in our surrounding area, but they also like the area because it is rural. I'd be very concerned owning a cat. I didn't know we had to be concerned with two big dogs. We know now."
Hanlon said her two dogs are both medium-sized, with Riley, a black Lab, weighing 80 pounds and Eddie weighing 60 pounds. She was alarmed that a coyote would attack animals that are the same size as it or larger.
"It seems to me that I read about (pets being attacked) more and more often in towns even far less rural than Newbury," Hanlon said. "They are even attacking dogs on leashes; it indicates coyotes are losing any significant fear of humans."
Larocque said it is out of the ordinary for a coyote to attack a dog because they normally go for smaller prey like rodents. However, if they have to feed a whole family of young, then they are constantly out looking for a food supply and could even take down a newborn calf, according to Larocque.
Hanlon said since the attack last Tuesday, her dogs haven't been allowed to roam freely like they were before and have only been allowed to go outside while being walked on a leash. She also said Riley, who was fearless before, now searches the woods beyond the perimeter of their backyard and cowers down in fear.
Larocque said this was the first coyote attack reported this year, but she would like to have people call her if they witness another one.
"I like to know where attacks are taking place because if they are concentrated in a certain area, the Environmental Police can be made aware of the problem in the certain area," Larocque said. "Then we could kind of notify neighbors and let the people know there is a problem in the area."
Larocque suggested that owners never let their pets loose outside unsupervised to protect them from attacks from other animals. If need be, Larocque said coyotes can be scared off by making a lot of noise.
Since last Tuesday, Hanlon said she has had fencing contractors at her property with ideas for fencing the yard off due to "extremely high levels of anxiety for (the dogs') safety."
"I am concerned much more about our dogs' safety than (I was) before last Tuesday," Hanlon said. "The dogs are 7 and 8 and have never had a life-threatening incident. We enjoyed feeling safe about their existence. We no longer feel that way.
"We will take some action. We will do what we need to do to prevent this from happening again."
Size: Coyotes are the size of a medium-size dog. They are typically 4 to 5 feet long and weigh an average of 34 pounds to 47 pounds.
Appearance: Coyotes have longer, thicker fur than an average dog, with long, bushy, black-tipped tails that usually point down.
Colors: Range in color from grayish-black to blond, light tan, dark tan, red and all black.
Habits: Once a coyote has established itself in an area, it will maintain a territory that can range in size from 2 to 30 square miles. Coyotes are active year-round and can be seen alone, in pairs or in small groups. Coyotes can also be identified by their shriek-like howls, which they use to communicate.
Source: Information from MassWildlife