A Madison County family is warning people to protect themselves and their pets after a pack of coyotes killed their two dogs last week.
On Dec. 19, Erika Hartwick let her dogs, Lelu and Murphy, outside into the fenced-in backyard on Old Alton Road near Granite City for about 20 minutes. When she went to let them back in, they were gone.
Hartwick and her boyfriend, Jeremy Briggs, searched the woods behind the house and heard the sound of dogs fighting and “horrible noises.”
After calling her father for help, Hartwick and her family found Murphy, an Australian shepherd, laying on the ground behind the house. Lelu, a husky, was already dead in a ditch. Hartwick said her boyfriend wouldn’t even let her see Lelu because she had been completely torn in half.
“I never got to see her again,” Hartwick said about Lelu, who would have turned 3 on Dec. 22.
Murphy had a fractured skull, broken back legs and deep bite marks. When he heard Hartwick’s voice, he crawled toward her and laid between her legs.
“He had bite marks all over his face. All of his front teeth were missing. It was like he had been chewed on.”
She and her family took Murphy to a veterinarian, who said he had a 2 to 5 percent chance of living. They decided to put him down.
When they returned home, they buried Murphy next to Lelu in the backyard.
Hartwick said her dogs would still be alive if there had been any warning about coyotes roaming the area.
“I haven’t seen or heard a single warning about coyotes,” she said. “If that was the case, if I would have known there was a big pack of them, our dogs would still be here.”
Hartwick said people have been attacking her on social media, saying she wasn’t a responsible pet owner. The family, however, had a fenced-in backyard and even put up extra barriers to prevent the dogs from escaping, she said.
Hartwick said despite people’s negative comments, it’s her goal to make sure what happened to her does not happen again.
“I just want people to be informed and not do the same things I did,” she said. “I underestimated coyotes. They’re extremely smart animals. They will attack. It’s almost mating season now, so they are a lot more aggressive and there’s not much that they are scared of right now if they’re hungry and ready to mate.”
Rachael Heaton, director of operations at the TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow, said attacks from coyotes are rare, but conflicts with the animals can increase in winter as they get ready to find a den and resources become scarcer.
“It’s a very sensitive issue, but it’s important that people don’t demonize coyotes,” Heaton said. “Conflicts usually arise when there’s some kind of resource involved.”
Heaton said educating the public on how to coexist with wildlife, such as coyotes, is the best defense against attacks. She said the Wildlife Center is considering putting together an informational pamphlet on the animals and people are welcome to visit the center, where they house several coyotes, to learn more about them.
She added that removing coyotes from an area does not necessarily solve the problem since another pack will likely take its place. The Urban Coyote Research Center offers the following tips on dealing with coyotes:
▪ Do not feed the coyotes or leave food out for other animals
▪ Do not let pets run loose or be unattended
▪ Do not run from a coyote
▪ Repellents or fencing may help
▪ Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately
▪ Do not create conflict where it does not exist
Daryl Drennen, a licensed wildlife remover with Double D Wildlife Control in Belleville, said he’s seen the coyote population increase dramatically in the past few years due to urban sprawl and a decrease in the hunting and trapping of coyotes.
“The coyote population is just exploding. I see them in places that 25 years ago I would never think I’d see them,” he said. “Coyotes are highly adaptable. They don’t leave when a subdivision is built; they may just adapt. You just push them a mile or a half mile away.”
He said when he’s called to remove coyotes, he often has to euthanize them because relocation can cause problems in another area.
“Everyone thinks the world is Walt Disney World, but Mother Nature can be very vicious. There’s a food chain in every ecosystem and coyotes are near the top of ours,” Drennen said.
For Hartwick and her family, they are still trying to deal with the loss of their dogs. She said the events of the night replay in her head and keep her from sleeping. Her two children, 10 and 1, are mourning the dogs in their own way.
“You can physically feel them missing out of the house now,” she said. “My daughter is only 1; she’ll look around for them. She would always hold food in her hand and wait for the dogs to come get it from her. Now she gets done with her breakfast and looks around and goes ‘dog, dog?’”
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, more than 30,000 coyotes live in Illinois. Most of them keep away from human activity and are valuable members of the wildlife community, according to the department’s website. However, when coyotes are in close association with people, they occasionally kill livestock, poultry and domestic pets.