Coyote sightings raise fears in Brookline

Coyotes have been confirmed in all state counties but Dukes and Nantucket, and their numbers are growing in Brookline. Coyotes have been confirmed in all state counties but Dukes and Nantucket, and their numbers are growing in Brookline. (The Conservation Agency)
By James O’Brien
Globe Correspondent / June 6, 2010

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They’ve been seen sneaking across Route 9, stalking a cat on Milton Road, skulking on High Street while a couple put out their trash.

Coyote activity appears to be on the rise in parts of Brookline that were relatively untouched by the wild animal in the past, sparking a series of reports and reactions from residents and town officials.

“They are here in full force,’’ said Pierre Verrier, animal control officer for the Brookline Police Department. “There are a lot of sightings in the neighborhood.’’

Brookline Police Chief Daniel O’Leary said the town has known about coyotes within its borders for eight to 10 years, but recent reports of the animals foraging as far as Brookline Village represent a shift in the sightings.

“It’s an issue we’re concerned about,’’ said O’Leary, adding that in addition to sightings, “we have heard about animals disappearing.’’

Coyotes were deemed present in the Commonwealth as early as 1957, according to Mass Audubon. They are now confirmed in every part of the state except Dukes and Nantucket counties. Suburban encounters with the animal, the organization’s “Living With Wildlife’’ coyote page notes, have been on the increase — and so have residents’ concerns.

John Bassett of the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance, a network of neighborhood associations, conducted an informal survey of 150 homeowners during April.Of the 23 residents who responded, 20 described having seen coyotes. Thirteen of those sightings occurred this year.

Paul Snover of Milton Road said he has seen coyotes in Brookline about four times within the past 12 months, both in his neighborhood and in the area of the Lincoln School.

The last one he saw was in January, “at the east end of Reservoir, just before dawn.’’

Snover has watched the animals cross Route 9 and run towards the D Line; trot along Walnut Street and slip away down Kennard Street; even try to make a meal of his cat on Milton Road.

“That was the scariest one, at 8 a.m., while the sun was up, where Cushing meets with Milton,’’ Snover said. “It was stalking my cat. I walk my two dogs, which is why I see them so often.’’

At one point, a coyote slunk along a row of hemlocks, very close to where Gita Rao and her husband were putting out the trash outside their High Street home.

“That was really scary,’’ she said. “It didn’t seem at all afraid.’’

Rao is nervous about a return, this summer. She’s taken to keeping her cat indoors.

Dennis De Witt said that’s exactly why he’s putting up a five-foot picket fence at his Upland Road home. He strongly suspects that his cat Ferris, which went missing in April, fell prey to the coyotes that residents have been seeing lately. Four other cats have disappeared in the neighborhood as well, he said.

The fence, “around a small part of our back yard,’’ De Witt said, is “so that our surviving cat can go outside without being eaten.’’

Laura Hajduk, a biologist with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said it would be best to simply keep one’s cats inside.

She visited Brookline in early May, partly in response to the reports, and found the residents had many differing opinions about the animals and varying degrees of concern.

Going forward, she said, the bottom line should be to make the neighborhood less desirable for the coyotes.

“Remove food sources from backyards,’’ Hajduk advised. “Make sure you don’t have denning areas, so that they can’t set up shop in the yard. And harass them . . . bang pots and pans, carry a whistle or an air horn, you can even throw a tennis ball in their direction. All of these things make a negative experience for the coyote.’’

State seasonal hunting and trapping laws regulate the killing of coyotes. Of hunting the animals in Brookline, however, Hajduk said: “That’s not feasible.’’

While coyotes may be new to these parts of town, Bassett said Brookline is not alone in facing increasing encroachment by displaced wildlife.

“My sense is that this is a problem shared by most of the communities’’ in the area, said Bassett. “We understand that there are very limited means to deal with them.’’

For example, Millis and Medway have been coping with coyotes for about the past five years.

Brenda Hamelin, animal control officer for both towns, said her work with residents, in connection with the coyote, is never done.

“I have to explain it every year, because it may be that a coyote moves into a different neighborhood,’’ she said. “Or even that it’s in the same neighborhood, but the resident sees it for the first time.’’

Hamelin said she understood why Brookline residents feel the advent of the animal so acutely.

“Out towards Millis, people may expect it more,’’ she said, regarding her rural territory. “Unlike Brookline, where it is a little odder to think about them in the streets.’’

For the time being, Verrier said, he will try to quell concerns via education, like Hajduk’s visit. And he has a plan, should Brookline’s newest visitors grow too bold.

“When you’re talking about Brookline, for coyotes to be running around Harvard Street, it’s outrageous,’’ Verrier said, but “we have to live with them. If they really become a serious problem I will call in the Massachusetts Environmental Police.’’

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