A recent uptick in the number of reported coyote sightings in Ponte Vedra Beach has some residents concerned for the lives of their pets.
“It’s just been the most tragic and horrific thing,” said Sawgrass resident Wendy Patton, whose cat Kiki was recently found dead in her neighbor’s yard. “It’s something you just don’t think about living in the suburbs, your animal being mutilated by a wild coyote.”
When Kiki first went missing, Patton said she wasn’t really worried.
“The only thing I’ve ever really worried about were maybe raccoons in our yard, and she actually used to chase them,” she said. “So, it didn’t really alarm me until the next day, when of course, she wasn’t there.”
Patton said that she was in the process of putting up flyers for her missing pet when her neighbor informed her that mangled cats had been turning up in his yard, including one that morning. Patton was later able to confirm that the most recent victim was Kiki, and after doing some research, she discovered that the way her cat was killed indicated a coyote attack.
Patton wrote about her experience online and was shocked by the number of responses she received from other Ponte Vedra Beach residents whose pets had been attacked or eaten by coyotes.
“I thought, ‘How is this not more well-known?’” she said. “Why don’t we have people coming and getting these coyotes and taking them away?’”
According to Brian Payne of First Coast Wildlife Services, one of the main reasons that the government does not get involved in coyote removal is the inability of animal control officers to keep up with the demand.
“Most animal control organizations, generally speaking, deal with domestic animals only, because that in itself is an overwhelming number of animals and an overwhelming number of calls,” Payne explained. “Most agencies will deal with simple dogs and cats. When we get into wildlife, some agencies may have agreements with local cities to handle wildlife issues, but typically coyote trapping is so specialized that you really couldn’t just have anybody do it.”
Payne added that the presence of coyotes is not unusual in Florida.
“We have them everywhere across the entire state,” he said. “There are coyotes in Downtown Jacksonville, but they’re just not as prevalent. People don’t really complain about them too much until things start happening, like their cat goes missing, or if [a coyote] ate a small dog. That’s when the awareness comes about.”
While Payne advised that coyotes do not necessarily pose a threat to humans, they are naturally scavengers and will hunt small animals like cats and dogs. He added that coyotes are also common carriers of rabies and will pass the disease on to other animals, so it would be wise for residents to exercise caution.
“Everybody’s under the impression that because we live in a beautiful area —such as Ponte Vedra or Jacksonville Beach — that it’s safe for your cat to stay outside every night, and the reality is that it’s not,” Payne said. “That animal is going to come into contact with raccoons, possums and coyotes... Some of them will result in injury, so being vigilant and just being accountable for your animal, that’s probably the most common thing that you can say. If your animal’s not left outside after hours, the chances of it being eaten are slim to none.”