In a the middle of the desert, Tombstone is a hub for human and wildlife interaction, but lately this interaction has become a lot less peaceful. This fall, small pets such as cats and dogs have found themselves more prominently on the list of prey for coyotes.
Mark Hart, a spokesman for Game Management, a department of Game and Fish, said there are more coyotes this year than there have been in the past five years. While coyotes are typically commonly seen in residential areas at this time of the year due to a lack of rain in the mountains, Hart attributes their more obvious presence now to other factors.
People seem to be feeding them more. “What we invariably find with urban wildlife such as coyotes, bobcats and javelinas, is that when they are present like this it is probably because there is an attraction bringing them in,” said Hart.
Attracting factors include garbage that is not properly disposed of, or fruit falling off trees and being left on the ground, Hart said. For other residents of Tombstone, these explanations aren’t enough because as they claim some people are heedless about coyotes and their natural habits.
“There are people who really do feed the animals out here,” said Diane Fenton, who owns the Tombstone Weddings & 1880’s Costume Rental shop in town. “We’ve got idiots who go as far as buying hot dogs in packs just to feed the coyotes.”
About two weeks ago, Fenton found Buddy, her Pekingese, covered in blood from a coyote attack. Buddy survived. Her other small dog, Bobo, a mix between a schnauzer and a poodle, was fatally wounded from the attack.
“We have lived in Tombstone since 2004, have always had small dogs and never had a problem,” Fenton said. “This year the population is out of control. They are desperate, they are hungry, and they are running out of wildlife to go after.”
Hart said, “As a game management agency we can not even count the number of coyotes there are in any given area. It’s almost impossible.” And it’s not just a place like Tombstone, he said, adding: “Their population has exploded nationwide in areas they didn’t use to be. It’s really a matter of removing attachments.”
Cochise County has a strict policy against feeding animals in order to avoid an overcrowding of wildlife in residential areas, said Hart. After one warning, a person caught feeding wildlife or failing to properly dispose of garbage and fallen fruit that acts as attracting factors can receive a fine up to $2,500, or even six months in jail.
Some residents take pity on the coyotes but understand that the consequences of feeding them goes beyond a run-in with the law.
“They need to have water; that’s really the reason they are here in the first place. So I keep some in random areas around my property, but I would never feed them. It’s not like a dog, the more you feed them the more aggressive they are likely to get,” said a Tombstone resident, Joe Munoz.
Fenton has taken upon herself the responsibility of stopping people with small dogs on the street to warn them about potential coyote attacks.
“I don’t need sympathy,” Fenton said. “I want to let people know what’s going on out there to protect their pets and small children.”
There are a few simple tactics residents can use to protect their property, according to Hart. These include making loud noises in their presence and properly disposing of attracting factors or setting up a simple “Coyote Roller.” These contraptions consist of collecting a length of pipe, running wire through it and attaching both ends of the wire to the ends of the fence. In the coyote’s attempt to jump the fence the pipe will cause the animal to roll off of the top of the fence. Coyotes can jump fences that are up to six feet tall, said Hart.
“Sadly, coyotes have become very adapt at snatching up small dogs,” said Hart. “They aren’t called wily coyotes for nothing. They are very smart and will eat just about anything, so it’s important for residents to be aware of that.”