Coyotes have long been the bane of suburban neighborhoods, but some of the recent animal sightings in the area—black bear in Nanuet and Katonah, a rabid fox in Briarcliff Manor, and the legendary —make the coyote look more like a roughneck cousin of the family dog.
As scary as those other animals are, however, they have yet to attack two young children, as coyote did last summer in Rye, setting off a wave of panic. So for now, coyotes will likely remain public enemy No. 1 for local residents.
Mary DeCesare has lived in Tarrytown for 20 years and is known as the “coyote lady.” As the vice president of the Carrollwood Homeowners’ Association, she has made ridding the neighborhood of coyote her cause.
“It doesn't take a genius to realize that the population is growing and is dangerous,” DeCesare said. “Something has to be done. Will it take another child to be hurt before there will be action. Why must we react instead of act?”
DeCesare said she is in frequent contact with the Animal Control unit of the Greenburgh Police Department, which handles animal complaints for Tarrytown and other areas nearby.
“It’s much worse than it’s ever been, and that’s what animal control has been ignoring,” DeCesare said.
But animal control officers and animal trappers say it isn’t the coyote population that’s exploding, it’s the human population, and as development moves into less populous suburban areas, humans and wild animals will come into contact more frequently.
“Coyotes have always been around, but they’re more visible because there’s more development and less open land,” said Jim Dreisacker, an animal trapper from Brewster. “You can tell if there’s overpopulation because you’ll see coyotes with mange, parasites and scabies.”
Dreisacker, who has been trapping animals for 40 years, runs Westchester Wildlife, a private trapping service that helps residents deal with coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bats, bees and other insect infestations.
Dreisacker said he has received more calls for his services in the past couple of years but says the number of animals he’s trapped has remained essentially the same. Dreisacker tries to assure homeowners that most coyotes are not dangerous. After the attacks in Rye last summer, the “Big Bad Wolf” syndrome has spread.
“Less than one percent of coyotes are mean,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent just want to do their own thing.”
DeCesare said that her homeowner’s association has spent more than $6,400 in the past year on coyote trappers, since she believes officials are not doing enough to solve the problem.
When a resident spots what they believe to be a problem coyote or other wild animal, they will usually call their local police department. Officials at both the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow police departments said they will first send an officer to look into the complaint. If the officer can confirm the sighting and believes it is warranted, he will call the area Animal Control unit or the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Reported sightings have increased in Tarrytown since 2009, said Lt. William Herguth. From May 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010, the department received five reports, and police were able to confirm one. From May 2010 to May 2011, the department received 16 reports, and during that time period, an officer confirmed seeing three coyote in a heavily wooded area, he said.
If an animal-related incident requires further action, the Tarrytown police department will report it to the Animal Control Unit of the Greenburgh Police Department. Greenburgh animal control officers did not return phone calls.
Marty Rogers, head of the Mt. Pleasant Police Department’s Animal Control Unit, said his department gets anywhere from 400 to 500 calls a year. Though he did not have exact numbers, he said the number of animal-related calls to the department has increased over the past year or two. The Mt. Pleasant unit covers Sleepy Hollow, Hawthorne, Thornwood, Pleasantville, Briarcliff Manor and Valhalla.
Rogers said police departments will contact him if they see “sick, overly aggressive, or threatening” animals. If he determines an animal is dangerous, Rogers said he will call an animal trapping service or, in the case of a black bear, the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“We respond to every call,” he said.
Rogers agreed with Jim Dreisacker that the wild animal problem isn’t going to go away.
“There’s more building encroaching on their [the animals’] land,” Rogers said. “They get used to it, like deer. Coyotes won’t leave.”
So what should worried homeowners do if they spot a seemingly menacing wild animal?
DeCesare said she employed a confrontational method when she was walking her Shih tzu one night and saw two coyotes standing on a rock. “I don’t know what got into me, but I started screaming like a banshee and ran after them yelling, ‘Get out! Get out!’ And they ran away.”
Dreisacker recommends a subtler approach. “I try to calm down the homeowners, try to educate them,” he said. “If you see a coyote remain calm, don’t show fear.”
The Westchester County website has a fact sheet on identifying and dealing with coyotes. Both DeCesare and Dreisacker are correct, according to the tips posted on the website:
- If a coyote approaches you, act aggressively: stand tall, shout, wave your arms and maintain eye contact as you try to scare it away and to get yourself safely inside or to a more populated area.
- Do not turn your back and run away. The coyote will then view you as prey and give chase.
But all the information and advice in the world is of little comfort to frustrated homeowners like DeCesare.
“When I decided to live in suburbs, I didn’t expect to be fighting wildlife,” she said.