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Neighbors near South Elementary School in Hingham are growing increasingly concerned about an uptick in the number of encounters residents are having with coyotes.
That concern hit a new high point Tuesday after a fifth-grade girl was chased by a coyote while walking her dog before school.
Many say they are worried about what might have happened if resident Chris Tomecek hadn’t stepped in.
Tomecek said he noticed the coyote after his 5-year-old daughter went out onto their porch to wait for her friends to walk with her to school. She soon called to him saying, “Dad, look, a coyote!”
Tomecek walked out and saw that the coyote was darting down the street toward the fifth-grade girl and her dog. Concerned for the girl’s safety, he ran down the porch toward the girl and began yelling at the coyote.
Tomecek successfully scared the coyote off, but not before the girl turned around to see what was happening and took off running toward her friends who were waiting for her down the street.
Jake LeBretton, 10, was one of those friends. He said he saw the girl running toward the group before noticing the coyote running just a few seconds behind her.
When she yelled “coyote,” Jake said, the group ran to hide. When they came out, the girl was fine, and her mother was with her.
“I felt very scared for her, and I just hoped she was OK,” Jake said. “I really didn’t know what to do. I was really nervous and so were my friends.”
Jake’s father Matt LeBretton said the incident scared him as a parent.
“You think of all kinds of other predatory behavior and things, but not a coyote stalking your kids on their way to school,” he said.
LeBretton said it was also sad for him to think the hundreds of children that live in the neighborhood, which is called Liberty Pole, might not be safe going out alone in the area. It has, up until recently, been very family-friendly, he said.
“It’s like a slice of Americana from the past where our kids ride their bikes and stay out until it gets dark, and all that came crashing down today,” he said.
But this is far from the first coyote sighting in the Liberty Pole neighborhood. In interviews, neighbors said they have seen one or two coyotes walking around their neighborhood multiple times a day.
“The coyotes are walking down the middle of the street. They’re walking by South Elementary School in the middle of the day. They’re at the bus stop. They’re in my backyard,” Alison Fabella, who lives in the neighborhood, said.
Fabella said she was also chased by a coyote when she was out walking her dog last week. She said they were walking around the neighborhood when she saw a large coyote begin to run toward her dog.
Fabella said she was able to escape the coyote by picking up her dog and walking quickly to a nearby friend’s house. Her friend let her in and drove her home, but she noticed when she got home that the same coyote was across the street from her house.
Other Liberty Pole neighbors have also reported that coyotes have tried to attack their pets. One commenter in a neighborhood Facebook group said a coyote nearly bit his cat last week.
Members of the group have been posting about coyote sightings near their homes every few days for the past few weeks.
“[The coyotes] are emboldened for some reason,” Tomecek said.
Hingham police say they have been contacted about coyote encounters in the neighborhood and are aware of the problem.
Animal Control Officer Leslie Badger says there are a few reasons why coyote sightings have ticked up recently. Right now, she said, the coyotes are out and about because they are bulking up on food for the winter.
“They also are opportunists and will take easy free food sources, especially coming out of an extremely dry summer season, to get what food they can easily find,” she wrote over email.
Badger said that in dense neighborhoods like Liberty Pole, you often find potential food sources that attract coyotes. This includes chicken coops, rabbit hutches, outdoor cats, compost piles, open trash bins, bird feeders, and uncleaned grills and fire pits.
And if the coyotes aren’t scared off often enough, Badger said, they may become comfortable walking about the neighborhood.
In response to these incidents, Badger said she and Massachusetts Environmental Police have been patrolling the neighborhood for coyotes regularly, including during the times of day when children go to and from school.
Tomecek said he’s noticed the increase in police presence in the neighborhood and is thankful to have them there.
“It’s a tough spot for the control officer and for the environmental police officers. You have to be there when the animal is there, and they’re unpredictable,” he said.
While Liberty Pole neighbors say they appreciate the current police response, they would like to see more done to combat the problem before someone gets hurt.
LeBretton said he has even contacted local legislators about the problem.
“Is it gonna take a kid getting mauled on his way to school for someone to take action?” he said.
The neighbors’ fears aren’t unwarranted. Just a town over in Cohasset, several dogs have been attacked by coyotes.
On Aug. 27, two off-leash dogs were attacked by a group of seven coyotes, and one of the dogs had to be put down because its injuries were so severe. That same day, a man and his two dogs, who were also off-leash, were attacked by coyotes, sending the man to the hospital.
Then, on Sept. 29, a Cohasset Dachshund was nearly killed after a coyote jumped a four-foot fence to attack it.
Some Liberty Pole neighbors have suggested relocating the coyotes, but relocating coyotes is illegal in Massachusetts for residents, and it’s unclear if authorities are also disallowed from relocating them.
Even so, neighbors hope bringing awareness to the problem will prompt authorities and experts to find a good solution.
“There’s got to be a solution that neither harms this wildlife, but also takes the danger away from humans that are trying to cohabitate with them,” LeBretton said.
MassWildlife’s tips for keeping coyotes away from your home:
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