Ladue residents seek relief as brazen beasts become pests

By Michele Munz Of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

01/07/2003 09:45 PM

Ladue, Missouri - Sally Scott's neighbors in Ladue are so vicious that she hired someone to get rid of them.

And she's not alone in her battle with the neighborhood menace: coyotes.

Although coyotes have stirred up trouble in suburbs throughout the St. Louis area, residents of tony Ladue have been facing a particularly mean and dangerous group. The animals have been killing dogs and cats in addition to their normal fare of rabbit.

"Seems like the Ladue coyotes are real pet killers," said Gene Jezek, owner of Critter Control, a wildlife control company. "They are kind of a rogue bunch."

So Scott and other residents have been turning to Critter Control or other companies to catch the coyotes - a difficult feat.

Scott first spotted the coyotes about two years ago, when she saw four on her property. She and her husband, Sanford, returned home one night shortly thereafter to find their 8-month-old West Highland terrier puppy, Cayleigh, in the back yard, with a snapped neck.

The pack grew to six. One recently came up to the Scotts' patio when their 11-year-old daughter was getting firewood. That prompted the Scotts to call Jezek. They have an 8-year-old as well.

"We started worrying about the children," Sally Scott said. "It was not just your household pets at that point."

Within the past 3 1/2 weeks, Jezek has caught five coyotes on the Scotts' 3-acre property on Vista Brook Drive.

Jezek said he got about 50 calls last year from people reporting their pet had been attacked by a coyote. He doesn't keep statistics, he said, but most of those came from Ladue.

Coyotes in south St. Louis County apparently are a nicer bunch. They never seem to attack pets, Jezek said. He has known Chesterfield coyotes to attack dogs occasionally but knows of none that have killed dogs.

Although urban coyotes are not as fearful around humans as rural ones, coyotes have never attacked a human in Missouri, said Daryl Damron, urban wildlife biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation's regional office.

Some attacks on humans have been reported in the Southwest and in the Northeast, Damron said, but most of them involve crying infants who were left unattended.

Damron said he received about 100 calls a year regarding coyotes - second only to Canada geese. His office at the Conservation Department covers St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties.

Some callers assume their pets were attacked by coyotes, he said, but only three or four of the cases are documented confrontations.

"A lot of pets come up missing and get hurt, but there's nothing verifying that a coyote did it," Damron said.

Damron got a call Monday morning from Ladue resident Russell Parker, who owns a home on Log Cabin Court.

Parker actually saw a coyote bite his dog. Damron met with him, explaining how his office provides traps at cost and teaches how to use them. Parker said he opted not to do any trapping since he felt Jezek likely got the culprit.

Jezek uses foot traps to catch the animals. He says the more humane cage traps are ineffective.

After Jezek catches the coyotes, he shoots them. If he relocates the animals, he said, they will continue to kill pets. And it will be harder to catch them again.

Jezek's services aren't cheap. Critter Control charges $500 a service call, which involves setting and checking the traps every day for two to three weeks. And for each coyote caught, the cost is $199.

In Missouri, a landowner or his representative can trap wildlife throughout the year without a permit if the landowner is experiencing damage "beyond a reasonable doubt." If the landowner kills a coyote, he must contact the Missouri Department of Conservation within 24 hours.

Residents in Illinois must obtain a permit. In west central Illinois last year, landowners caught 21 coyotes who were causing problems, mostly attacking pets, according to Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Bob Bluett. In the Chicago area, 372 were caught.

So, are the coyotes in Ladue really meaner than elsewhere?

Damron said people needed to understand a little coyote biology.

The animals are very territorial, sticking to an area of about 2 to 5 square miles. They are a loose-knit family group with up to eight coyotes in one territory. Coyotes typically eat rabbits and rodents, not pets.

One of the males in the Ladue area might have gotten a little meaner than the others, attacked a pet and learned he could get away with it, Damron said. The pups then do it, too. Coyotes attack dogs and cats not only for food but also because they are seen as competitors.

Other factors also are working against Ladue, Damron said. Because of their large properties, many of the residents don't have fences to protect their animals. Pets are not kept on a leash, and the city has a healthy population of squirrels and rabbits. It also has a mixture of green space, woods and homes that offers coyotes cover, habitat and shelter.

"You put all those things together . . . and you have an issue," Damron said.


If coyotes are in your neighborhood . . .

The Missouri Department of Conservation recommends the following to minimize confrontations and protect your pets:
Throw rocks at or chase coyotes to make them feel unwelcome in your area.
Do not leave small children unattended in yards, especially if the yards are known to be frequented by coyotes.
Do not let cats and small dogs out at night unless accompanied by a person.
Keep outside areas for pets well lighted.
Obey leash laws.
Fence in yards.
Do not feed coyotes. Bring in pet food, secure garbage and keep yards clean of refuse and brush.

Reporter Michele Munz:
Phone: 314-340-8263


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