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Coyotes, sharpshooters, and the wildlife debate dividing a small town

In recent years, the seaside town of Nahant, Massachusetts, has seen an increasing number of coyote attacks on animals.
Posted at 11:31 AM, Feb 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-07 11:31:02-05

From the inside of her living room, Anna Cox looks out over the Atlantic Ocean. The sun's rays on a recent January morning are flickering off the horizon as she begins to talk about the coyote problem that has divided the small seaside town of Nahant, Massachusetts.

Back in 2020, Cox's 10-month-old cat, Jackie, went missing. A few days later, a neighbor posted a picture of Jackie's remains on a community Facebook page. Cox knew from the collar in the picture it was her missing cat. Two years later, the ordeal has still left her shaken.

"It was gut-wrenching. Her collar had a little bell and that probably led them right to her," Cox said with a small crack in her voice.

It was a painful life lesson for this former first-grade teacher, who quickly learned she was not alone in her grief.

"People really didn't start caring until the dogs were being eaten," Cox noted.

In recent years, Nahant, a seaside town of 3,000, has seen an increasing number of coyote attacks on animals. Coyotes have become so pervasive on this peninsula that day or night, residents out on walks do whatever they can to protect themselves and their pets. Some carry baseball bats, and others, like Tim Brennan, carry large walking sticks to haze coyotes away if needed.

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"This is just part of our daily lives. They're very much present," Brennan said.

Resident Carl Lanzilli even purchased a $100 coyote jacket, lined with metal spikes, to protect his small dog, Coco.

"If the coyote goes for his throat, this will stop it," Lanzilli said as he loaded Coco into the front seat of his SUV.

Multiple Facebook groups, like Nahant Coyote Victims, help residents here keep track of sightings and attacks. No humans have ever been hurt. But the tides have shifted so much in Nahant that sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were called in last year to help bring down coyote numbers.

Because of how densely populated the peninsula is, hunting isn't legal here under Massachusetts law. The decision to bring in sharpshooters has divided this 1 square mile of land.

Cox, who lost her cat, is among those who feel something needed to be done.

"I think their numbers are too high, and I don't have a problem with them being exterminated," she said.

Coyotes can be found in every U.S. state except Hawaii. Increasingly, they're making homes in more heavily populated areas, where hunting isn't permitted, making what's happened in Nahant a tale of note for communities nationwide.

Animal advocate Deb Newman, who lives in nearby Swampscott, Massachusetts, said the issue has been divisive.

"The people who were in support of protecting the coyotes — many of them were afraid to say anything," Newman said.

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It is unclear just how many coyotes those USDA sharpshooters have killed since being called in.

A spokesperson for the USDA told Scripps News in an email that the Nahant coyote removal program that started in December is ongoing and that it could take several months before more information is released at the end of the operation.

As for the town, Nahant Town Administrator Antonio Barletta said, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services professionals are working in Nahant under the terms of the Cooperative Services Agreement with the town. Their work addresses a significant issue in our community."

For now, residents like Cox are doing whatever they can to keep their pets safe. Cox recently adopted a new cat, Lexi, and she carries whistles and an air horn with her wherever she goes. Both were provided by the town to help prevent attacks.

Cox's hope is that her idyllic New England seaside town goes back to its tranquil state of being.

"I can acknowledge they're beautiful, but if the numbers dwindled, then we'll know something happened," Cox said.