Clarification: Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie said he plans to discuss the coyote problem on a conference call Thursday with representatives from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida’s Institute of Agriculture Services. The rest of the county commissioners will not take part as a board, and it will not be a private meeting.
Still in mourning after her beloved dog , a Bradenton woman on Tuesday tried to spur action so others don’t have to go through the same thing.
Melody Sweetman Carpenter’s pet Maltese, Ari, died June 17 from a wound to her jugular — a wound which, according to Sweetman Carpenter’s veterinarian, was inflicted by a coyote.
The attack occurred on Sweetman Carpenter’s front yard in her West Bradenton neighborhood, where residents are concerned with the prevalence of coyotes that have become increasingly common in communities throughout Florida in recent years.
Instead of grieving in silence, Sweetman Carpenter has begun to take action. She has already posted a sign in her front yard warning her Bay Lakes Estates neighbors, and her boyfriend, Ralph Adamczyk, has placed fliers in 140 mailboxes throughout the neighborhood.
Sweetman Carpenter also founded an awareness group called Arresting Renegade Invaders (ARI) to address the situation. On Tuesday, she was granted permission to speak for 15 minutes at a Bay Lakes Homeowner’s Association meeting. Following Sweetman Carpenter’s presentation, a group of concerned citizens gathered outside to continue the dialogue for more than an hour.
During the meeting, Sweetman Carpenter stressed that her goal is to raise community awareness, not to encourage citizens to take to the streets on a coyote hunt.
“I’m not condoning people to just come out and start hunting them. We don’t want a bunch of hunters coming out and trying to kill these animals,” Sweetman Carpenter said. “That could be really dangerous.”
Instead, Sweetman Carpenter’s goal is to pass legislation to have official signs posted warning of the danger of coyotes.
“We had no idea there were coyotes in our neighborhood,” said Sweetman Carpenter. “If someone had told us, we would have been a lot more careful.”
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie attended the meeting and said he agreed that education and awareness are the first steps toward finding a solution. Chappie said on Thursday he and representatives from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida’s Institute of Agriculture Services are planning to discuss the problem in a conference call.
“I can only educate people on the problem, not remove the animals myself,” said Chappie. “The purpose of Thursday’s meeting will be to figure out who is responsible to respond to the problem, and to figure out ways to educate the public and raise awareness.”
Lisa Hickey, an extension agent for UF’s Institute of Agriculture, plans to lead community discussions geared toward educating the public on how to deal with a coyote problem that's on the rise in Manatee County. She said the only areas of Bradenton she hasn't received coyote complaints from are Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key.
“Killing coyotes is not the answer,” Hickey said. “If we do that, they will only extend their habitat further. .. As long as they still have a food source, they will continue to expand their population.”
Hickey said coyotes have become naturalized in Florida, and though they tend to be afraid of humans, that fear has lessened as they become more prevalent in communities.
She said there are little things residents can do to deter them, such as not leaving pet food and water bowls outside that would draw coyotes or their prey into residential areas. She also advises that citizens make sure to cover their trash.
“If you are approached by a coyote and it doesn’t back off, that can mean one of two things: Either the animal is rabid, or it’s an alpha female protecting her cubs,” Hickey said. “Make a loud sound, carry a whistle of a foghorn, spray it with a garden hose, or open an umbrella in its direction. The more we deter them, the better safety we will have.”
Becky Pomponio of Project Coyote also attended Tuesday’s meeting and seconded Hickey’s advice about trying to modify coyote behavior.
“There’s an old saying that says, ‘The dumbest coyote is smarter than the smartest dog,’” Pomponio said. “Coyotes have proven themselves to be the most intelligent and adaptable animals in the wilderness. There is hope that we can modify coyote behavior, and we haven’t begun to do that yet.”
Sweetman Carpenter and her boyfriend have already begun to modify their behavior. The couple rescued an 8-week-old Maltese/beagle mix this weekend, and although their gated community does not allow them to have a fenced-in yard, they said they are highly vigilant regarding the puppy’s safety. It’s leashed and supervised at all times, their yard is well lit, and whenever the couple is outside with their dog, they make noise to deter coyotes that may be nearby.
“The most important thing we can do is be aware, do our homework, and pay attention,” Sweetman Carpenter said. “It is our responsibility to be vigilant and protect our animals.”