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Coyotes taking family animals, farmers’ products

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He didn’t have time to grab one of his guns, so he ran into his backyard with a giant meat cleaver.

Ken Hansen was trying to save his 5-year-old dog Audie, who was being attacked by two coyotes in the backyard of his Center Grove area home. Hansen’s voice was enough to scare the coyotes away, but Audie still suffered more than 75 bite marks that required 16 stitches.

More than 225 coyote attacks and sightings have been reported in and around Greenwood since October 2012, according to data on the city police department’s website. In the last two years, residents have had run-ins with the wild dogs in suburban subdivisions and rural acreage. What used to be an occasional problem for those living in remote areas, has become more frequent for people in both neighborhoods and rural areas of Johnson County.

Experts say homeowners can’t get rid of the animals, which have been appearing more frequently with growth in the county. They can take some precautions, such as not letting pets outside unattended, and not leaving pet food or trash outside. But coyotes will continue to thrive, as they need little space to create a home and can survive on food from many different sources.

Numerous cats at the Dougherty family farm east of Greenwood have disappeared since last fall. The Doughertys hired a trapper to come to their property, and he used cages to catch six coyotes in December.

Doug Abney has noticed a few chickens and barn cats missing from his home and business, Red Barn Meats near Bargersville. He’s also pretty sure a 75-pound cow was dragged off by coyotes a couple of years ago.

Small pets are also common prey for coyotes, two of which tried making Hansen’s dog their meal on a cold January night. Hansen got home from work around 10:30 p.m. and let his two dogs, Annie and Audie, outside.

Audie was sitting on the steps, a sign he was ready to come inside, while Annie was barking out toward the yard. A few seconds later Audie wasn’t in sight, but Annie was still barking.

Hansen went to the back window of his home and saw two coyotes on the corner of the property attacking Audie. He quickly put his shoes on while his wife grabbed a meat cleaver for him to take. He would have grabbed a gun, but they were on the other side of the home and he had to get outside quickly.

“I wasn’t expecting to have to tangle, but I wasn’t going to let them chew on my dog,” Hansen said. “I was going to break it up one way or another.”

Hansen loudly yelled the names of his dogs, which was enough to scare off the coyotes. Audie was covered in blood and bite marks, and Hansen took him to a 24-hour veterinarian. The dog had deep bruising from some of the roughly 75 bite marks, and five punctures required 16 stitches to be healed. Audie still has visible marks from the attack, but is expected to make a full recovery.

“If it had taken me 30 more seconds to get out there I don’t think he would have lived,” Hansen said.

Hansen has always noticed coyotes in the area from time to time, but they never caused much of a problem. Hansen takes his dogs out on a leash now, where in the past they were able to run around inside of an invisible fence.

Miles away on a 160-year-old family farm in Clark Township, Amy Dougherty is convinced coyotes have been causing her cats to disappear. The family became curious when a cat seemed to disappear every five to six days, sometimes more frequently.

“We noticed they didn’t want to spend time in the barn anymore,” Dougherty said. “They were coming to the porch or sleeping on the step of the back door.”

They set up a night-vision camera on their porch, which took a photo whenever something moved. On one night the first few photos showed cats coming to lay on a blanket. In the next image, the cats were all sitting up, followed by a frame showing all of their heads turning the same direction. The cats were nowhere to be seen in the next frame, followed by an image of a coyote standing in that spot.

Most of their missing cats lived in a barn, but one was an indoor cat that disappeared during the day from the property located in the northeastern part of the county. The family has three teenage children, all in 4-H. The children would pet the cats and play with them while tending to their livestock animals, Dougherty said.

“Some of them were pets and not just barn cats,” she said.

“I’m not afraid of coyotes, but I was just flat-out ticked off when I saw it. I was mad it had the nerve to come up every three or four nights and take one of the cats.”

Coyotes are capable of adapting easily and will look to prey on whatever animal they feel they have an advantage over. To survive, coyotes can eat just about anything, from grass to mice to small dogs to larger farm animals, said Shawn Rossler, a biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The animals serve a purpose by keeping down the population of mice and small mammals, pests that can get into grain storage or other unwanted areas, Rossler said.

Coyotes have also taken family pets and caused business owners to lose animals they were counting on to make money from, he said.

In the past few years, two calves have disappeared from Abney’s farm near Bargersville without a trace left behind, he said. He assumes coyotes dragged the animals to a den, where the calf was used for food.

“There are not many predators that can drag off a 75-pound animal,” Abney said.

Abney raises cattle, sheep, and chickens on his property near Bargersville, which he butchers and sells in his business. He’s always heard coyotes at night in the past, but recently he’s noticed a few chickens and barn cats have disappeared.

He tries to keep baby animals, or those pregnant, close to the barn. He also has three German shepherd dogs, which he says stay together in a pack and help deter coyotes.

Residents are finding different ways to deal with the problem, since keeping coyotes off a property isn’t likely. Coyotes can jump over nearly any residential fence, and they need just a little bit of space to create a den, such as a fence row, Rossler said.

Residents do not need a license to shoot or trap coyotes, but they have to do so on their own property, or have the permission of a property owner, according to the state’s department of natural resources.

Coyotes can also be shot in rural parts of Johnson County, under an ordinance approved by county commissioners in 2011. However, a person can be arrested for criminal recklessness if they shoot at a coyote, but a stray bullet hits a home, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

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