Some parents may have laughed last week when they received a letter from St. Joan of Arc Catholic Elementary School in Oakville describing the coyote lockdown on Jan. 11, when students were kept inside the classroom during the lunch hour after one was spotted prowling the schoolyard earlier in the day.
But after a brazen coyote leapt over a backyard fence to attack an 8-year-old girl on Thursday afternoon, the entire town is on heightened alert for the howling carnivores, which have been known to prey on small pets, but are usually considered harmless to humans.
“I think it’s becoming a little scarier for sure,” said Kevin Corcoran, who lives on Canonbridge Circle, a few doors down from where 8-year-old Julia Couto was bit on the thigh as she played with a friend.
Corcoran helped police locate what was believed to be the culprit coyote, which was shot and killed. The natural resources ministry gave police permission to shoot the animal after the attack.
“My kids are scared,” Corcoran said. “They won’t go out in the front yard anymore.”
Oakville residents, particularly those living between Bronte and Sixteen Mile creeks, are accustomed to sharing their neighbourhood with coyotes and other wildlife. The area is dotted not only with popular golf courses, but also small creeks and ravines, trails and parks.
“Urban coyotes are a fact of life here,” said Cindy Toth, the town’s director of environmental policy.
But residents used to hearing the animal’s howl have been put on edge this month by an apparently aggressive coyote or coyotes.
In addition to the schoolyard scare, two small dogs were attacked by coyotes this week, one fatally. Neighbours have also been gossiping about a male jogger who was apparently attacked by a coyote on one of the region’s trails. Halton police could not confirm the report.
Town officials are confident the animal shot Thursday was the “problem coyote,” but they still encourage residents to remain alert, reminding them never to feed the animals and asking them to be aware of any unintentional food sources left outside.
Corcoran said he and his neighbours have taken to wearing cowbells while walking dogs, or shaking cans filled with screws to ward off any potential coyotes.
Julia’s mother, Jenny Couto, said she is thankful her daughter was wearing snow pants at the time of the attack or her wound — three small bite marks and bruising — could have been much worse. “It was a scary ordeal for her, but it’s not usual coyote behaviour.”
Derek Quinlan, whose daughter Sydney was playing with Julia when the attack occurred, said after he heard the children scream and he ran into the living room, the coyote stood steadfast on his backyard deck, staring straight at the children through the sliding glass door.
It’s unclear what may have caused the aggressive behaviour. Town officials are awaiting results of an autopsy of the killed animal to see if it was rabid, or if there is evidence it had been fed by humans.
Meanwhile, Julia appeared unfazed a day later as she fielded interview requests and spoke to TV cameras before she was to take a quick trip to hospital. “I’m going to get a rabies shot!” she said, smiling.
The town is holding a coyote information session at 9 p.m. Jan. 31 at the St. Volodymyr Cultural Centre, 1280 Dundas St. W.Julia Couto, 8, photographed at her Oakville home, was attacked by a coyote while playing at the yard of neighbour. Police say they shot and killed the coyote that attacked the girl Thursday afternoon.