'We got lucky'

BRYAN EATON/Staff PhotoJason Szycher, 11, pets his cat Dwighty, who is recovering from a coyote bite he got outside their West Newbury home.

Diane Szycher and her husband had let their 6-year-old, long-haired, fluffy white and orange Persian cat named Dwighty out to roam their West Newbury property and nearby conservation land sometime around 6:30 p.m. last Tuesday evening.

“By 8:30 or 9, he somehow found his way to our back-door slider on our deck,” Szycher said. “We let him in and it looked like he had been bit or something. We saw two bloody circles that were thumbprint-sized and he seemed to be breathing differently.”

Szycher had heard the rumors of coyotes when she and her family moved into their secluded Hilltop Circle neighborhood three years ago but didn’t think much of them. But according to Dr. Heidi Bassler of Salisbury’s Bassler Veterinary Hospital, those rumors turned into a stark reality for the Szychers.

“He had deep-puncture bite wounds which are consistent with those from a coyote,” Bassler said. “One of the fangs had punctured through his chest into his lungs. It had bruised his lungs and he had lung contusions with four fractured ribs.”

Lucky to be alive, Dwighty had somehow managed to break free of his attacker and make it home — but not without sustaining some horrific injuries, which Bassler uncovered when he was brought to her early the next morning.

“The other fang had punctured through into his abdomen and then he also had a bite wound up onto his back,” Bassler said. “When they are picked up, they are usually grabbed over the middle, where the chest meets the abdomen. The predator often shakes the pet and that is what looks like had started to happen to this cat. Miraculously, the cat got loose from the predator.”

Stabilizing Dwighty the best she could, Bassler was able to contact a visiting surgeon, who performed further life-saving surgery, and while the cat is now home and doing well, Bassler warned that coyote attacks are not uncommon.

“Coyotes are everywhere,” Bassler said. “They are on Plum Island, they are in New Hampshire, they are in Massachusetts, they are in towns, in the woods, in the cities, in the suburbs. Coyotes adapt to every kind of situation. They live in our neighborhoods, no matter where we are. You can see them darting across the street at night.”

Pet owners should take care not to leave small pets outside unattended, Bassler said, especially at dusk.

“They especially like to hunt as the sun goes down,” Bassler said. “During the day, the coyotes are not as much of a risk as they are during the evening and the night.”

Szycher said she and her family are giving much more credence to coyote warnings.

“It will be a transition for him,” Szycher said. “Once we were through the crisis, we realized, ‘Hey, this cat broke free from a coyote and he managed, after being punctured in the lung with this thing’s teeth, to wander home to the back deck.’ That is the part that we find a little amazing. We got lucky. I just don’t know how he did it.”

Normally allowed to wander on his own in the Szychers’ yard and in the woods nearby, Dwighty will most likely find himself a bit more restricted when he ventures outside again.

“We know of neighbors who have lost a cat to a coyote,” Szycher said. “We didn’t grow up in big coyote areas, so we didn’t know quite what to make of that. There are a lot of coyotes around here. There are these cats that just disappear that I think are just eaten by something. Now we know and no more outdoor cats for us.”

Bassler said it’s tragic to witness the injuries from such attacks.

“Not every kitty makes it home. This was one lucky kitty to make it home,” she said.

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