He'd been waiting for this moment for months.
Belmont Animal Control Officer John Maguranis stood over a cage on a hilltop Tuesday in Belmont, ready to release the coyote he caught in December back into the wild after a three-month sojourn at Tufts Wildlife Clinic.
The door swung open and the coyote took off, a flash of reddish fur, tail tucked and body hurtling across the mud towards the woods. And she was gone.
“It gives you a good feeling to see something go back into the wild, to its freedom,” he said. “It’s kind of like the American way.”
When Maguranis caught the female coyote at Sergi Farms, she was dying of mange, a parasitic infection that causes hair loss and opens up painful, weeping sores on the skin.
Now, her fur has grown back, though her tail remains a little sparse. After a light breakfast of a couple mice at the Tufts clinic in North Grafton, she’s back home.
It has been a winter full of coyote sightings in nearby towns – Newton and Brookline residents have had a rash of coyote complaints from residents who worry that the animals will harm their pets or children. Recently, coyotes attacked two dogs in Wellesley.
But coyotes don’t pose a threat to humans, wildlife specialists say. In the 60 years that coyotes have lived in the state, there have been just five documented cases where a coyote bit a person, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The most recent case was in January, when a coyote bit a 9-year-old girl in Haverhill.
“Most coyotes, when they’re in suburbia, they’re not aggressive,” said Tom French, assistant director in the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Coyotes live everywhere in Massachusetts except for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. French said the department estimates there are about 10,000 in the state. “They’re here to stay.”
In his animal control beat, Maguranis patrols the paths and fields that coyotes frequent, telling residents how to keep themselves and their pets safe.
He knows that some people are bound to disagree with his decision, authorized by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, to trap, treat, and release the female coyote. But, he said, he couldn’t let the coyote suffer, and once she’d been nursed back to health at Tufts, state wildlife officials okayed her release back into Belmont.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Maguranis said. “She belongs to the wild.”
Tufts Wildlife Clinic treats about two coyotes a year, said spokesman Tom Keppeler. The female’s treatment, he said, cost somewhere between $2,000 and $4,000 – a cost that Tufts covered. Maguranis donated $70 to the clinic, he said, but the town of Belmont paid nothing for the coyote’s treatment.
The coyote, said Keppeler, had very limited interaction with humans while at Tufts.
“The goal with any case that comes to the Tufts Wildlife Clinic is for us to keep the animal wild,” he said. “She has retained a healthy fear of people, and that’s always the ultimate goal.”
French said that it is unusual for a coyote to be caught, treated and released. It happens maybe once every two or three years, but the animals are rarely captured, he said.
The release of a single animal, he said, won’t affect the coyote population in Belmont. And the female missed mating season, which runs from January to February.
If the coyote had been aggressive, she would have been put down, he said.
“It would not have been treated, much less released,” he said.
The best way to keep coyotes from becoming aggressive, he said, is to keep them afraid of people.
“It’s just fine to share suburbia, but you want animals that know that you need to be avoided,” he said.
Now that she’s free again, the female coyote will likely rejoin her pack, said Maguranis, who got help with the release from licensed wildlife rehabilitator Deanna Gualtieri.
“I bet there’s going to be some howling going on tonight,” he said.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org