Officially Galveston is doing about all it can, or should do, to help people avoid bad encounters with the island’s resident population of coyotes.
The bad encounters, as the newspaper reported Monday, typically involve pets such as dogs and cats being killed and injured by coyotes. We’ve never heard a report of a person being injured or even threatened by a coyote. Coyotes are so shy that most people have never even seen one.
Islanders have talked and debated about coyotes for a long time, probably as long as people have lived here, but the issue came up recently in the case of Claude Williams, whose family lost two of its beloved dogs to a coyote. A third small dog was badly mauled.
These stories always are lamentable and this one is especially so because the dogs were attacked during their morning sojourn into the fenced back yard of the family’s home on Golfcrest Drive.
“Every day for 13 years, we’d just let them out in the morning,” Williams said. “It was just another day. I’ve done this thousands of times over the years. It was a routine.”
It’s not hard to understand that the family considered its own backyard to be a safe place for the dogs. It always had been.
The truth, though, and the lesson for residents is that while coyote attacks on domestic pets are very rare, but they do happen so people should be very careful.
The Galveston Police Department’s animal control division tracks coyote reports. There are three confirmed packs of coyotes in areas east of 7 Mile Road, according to the police department.
There are as many as four other packs on the West End, the department said.
Each pack is estimated to include between six and eight adult coyotes, according to the department.
One pack lives near the Calvary Cemetery, 2506 65th St., which is in the general area of Golfcrest Drive. Another lives around the East End Flats, an undeveloped marsh area east of Ferry Road.
Over the past year, there have been dozens of reports of coyote sightings, but few incidents of the animals bothering people or pets, according to the police department.
“Coyotes are not the scourge of the island,” said Josh Henderson, one of the city’s animal control officers.
“It’s wildlife that we have on the island and they are behaving in a manner that is natural. They aren’t doing anything we don’t expect them to do.”
People have come up with all sorts of ideas about how to “solve” the coyote problem — everything from exterminating them to trapping and taking them somewhere else.
The city has rejected those ideas, and that’s the right thing to have done. There are all sorts of moral and ethical questions about killing and attempting to move the coyotes, which are valid, but the bottom line is a matter of practicality.
“As a general rule, killing coyotes is an ineffective method of management,” the police department said. “This method has been the cause of more problems than solutions in many areas throughout the county.”
Killing some of the coyotes could just cause the ones that remain to breed more often, and actually cause the pack sizes to increase, Henderson said.
It’s no more practically possible to eliminate the coyotes by extermination or some method ostensibly more humane than it would be to deal with rattlesnakes, which also can kill pets, in such a way.
Instead, the department is stepping up its efforts to inform people about native coyotes, Henderson send. When Henderson heads out to calls about coyotes, he now has pamphlets informing people about the animals and how best to stay safe around them.
He advises people to cut back the brush in their yards, and to think twice about putting things that might attract small prey, such as squirrels, to the same places where pets might go.
People should also haze coyotes — yell, spray water, shine lights at them — to make them afraid to hang around, he said.
The way to deal with the coyote threat is the same way people deal with the threat of rattlesnakes and the main threat, automobiles. It’s to keep pets close and keep a close eye on them.
• Michael A. Smith