Howling about coyotes in Brooklyn Park

Cody LaFleur, 14, was walking his dog Murphy around the block earlier this fall, when suddenly Murphy broke his leash and and ran the other direction.

“I looked over … and there was a coyote coming out of the woods,” Cody said.

The wild animal snarled, and Cody ran after Murphy, he said. When Cody looked back, the coyote was retreating into the trees. The encounter frightened Cody, and he doesn’t like to walk around the block alone anymore.

“I usually don’t go out unless I have my brother or maybe my cousin,” he said.

Cody’s mother, Carol LaFleur, said it wasn’t the first time her family had seen a coyote in the neighborhood. They live on 87th Avenue east of 252, not far from the Mississippi.

“One walked up right in front of our garage,” she said. “They don’t care anymore.”

Carol has heard many stories from others who have recently had run-ins with coyotes in Brooklyn Park neighborhoods. She’s worried they’re growing more bold and aggressive and could pose a danger to pets, or even people.

“What if they start attacking humans?” she wondered.

LaFleur also worried that if the city council allows urban chickens — as it has been considering — the birds could attract more coyotes.

She’s not the only one worried about coyotes. Numerous citizens have expressed concern, including Brooklyn Park Recreation and Parks Commissioner Mike Lenz. He recently snapped a photo of a coyote in his backyard and brought up the topic at the November Recreation and Parks Commission meeting. As a result, the commission invited a DNR specialist to speak about the topic and will hear from Assistant Wildlife Manager Tim Marion at its Dec. 19 meeting.

But some think the concern is disproportionate to the problem.

Brian Rogers, the Rec and Parks Commission chair, expects educating the public will go a long way toward solving the problem.

“My goal out of this upcoming meeting would be to inform those that are worried about coyotes,” he said. He also wants to create some kind of educational piece to inform the public in the future.

“I do want to have something for the record so we don’t have to keep revisiting this year in and year out,” he said.

Brooklyn Park Police Community Service Coordinator Lee Kimsey agrees with Rogers’ assessment.

He said the more people learn, the less they have to fear.

“You’ll find out that this is not a bogey monster living in the trees behind your house,” he said.

Kimsey has been on the force since 1990 and said the police have been responding to coyote calls since he joined. The number of calls has increased steadily during the past 10 years, but he said the city should expect that as it develops land adjacent to natural areas.

“It’s not that the coyotes weren’t always there,” he said. “It’s just that we’re seeing them more now. … You can’t have it both ways. … When you create those natural places, nature moves in, in all its forms. So the best thing you can do is make yourself smart and teach your kids.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) coyotes feed primarily on mice and rabbits but may also raid garbage cans or kill domestic cats and small dogs.

Healthy wild coyotes generally avoid people, and according to its website, the DNR does not have any reports a coyote attacking a human in Minnesota. Urban coyotes have attacked people in other states, but experts believe the attacks occurred after the animals got used to or were fed by humans.

That’s why experts encourage “hazing” coyotes.

“You want to teach it to be afraid of people,” Officer Kimsey said. “We tell people clap your hands, wave your arms, throw things at it  — not food, of course.”

Kimsey even suggested squirting the animals with a garden hose.

If a resident feels unsafe and reports a coyote to the police, Kimsey said an officer will come assess the situation. The officer will attempt to check whether the coyote appears sick or injured, if its behavior is abnormal or if it poses an imminent threat to people in the area. If the answer to all those questions is “no,” the officer will probably shoo it away. If it won’t leave, or if the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” the solution will be “more permanent.”

Coyotes aren’t protected in Minnesota and can be trapped or shot at any time without a permit. The DNR does not perform coyote removal, leaving that to landowners and local law enforcement.

Kimsey said Brooklyn Park Police have only taken about three coyotes in the past five years.

Coyote problems aren’t unique to Brooklyn Park. Recently cities such as Edina, St. Louis Park and others have dealt with coyote problems by encouraging residents to haze coyotes, to keep their pets leashed on trails and not to leave small pets outside unattended.

“There’s no magic coyote pill that I’ve ever seen that is going to solve your coyote-people problems,” Kimsey said. “… They’re not going anywhere. … You just have to create an environment where they’re not welcome.”

Those interested in learning more about urban coyotes can attend a DNR presentation 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19 in Grand Room 1 at the Brooklyn Park Community Activity Center, 5600 85th Ave. N.

Living with coyotes

• Harass (by chasing, shouting, etc) any coyotes that don’t immediately run from people.
• Secure all garbage can, wildlife feeders and other food sources.
• Confine small pets in kennels and supervise them when outside.
• Vaccinate pets for rabies and other diseases as recommended by a veterinarian.

• Do not feed coyotes
• Do not leave pet food outside
• Do not allow cats and small dogs outside unattended