Chapel Hill, N.C. — Lauren Hodge, of Chapel Hill, recalls walking her Jack Russell terrier last summer when she was approached by a coyote.
"I saw a great big, fat rogue coyote that had been plaguing our neighborhood," she said Tuesday. "My dog was going crazy. I was terrified."
Her daughter, Hannah, had a similar encounter when she and her dog were chased into the woods by one.
Encounters with coyotes, like the Hodges', are becoming more common.
In 1985, the coyote population in North Carolina was contained to four counties – Burke, Gaston, Washington and Beaufort – according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. By 2005, the population had spread to all 100 counties.
Part of the reason is because coyotes are "opportunistic feeders" that feed on a variety of food sources – including animal remains, garbage and pet food – and survive anywhere there is abundant food sources.
That's why they are highly adaptable to urban and suburban living areas that are pushing into the rural areas they once occupied.
Although they are usually not a threat to people, the animals are seen as a nuisance and concern for pet owners. Experts say that attacks on people are rare, but that it is more common for them to attack pets for food or to get rid of what they perceive to be competition.
The question Orange County residents now face has to do with what to do with the coyote problem there.
"There's a lot of debate in our neighborhood about whether the coyote should be trapped or shot or just be left alone," Hodge said.
That's why Orange County Animal Services, in conjunction with Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill police departments, has planned a public information session to help residents humanely deal with coyotes.
For example, the Wildlife Resources Commission recommends securing garbage bins with tight-fitting lids and putting it out for pickup in the morning, instead of at night, to keep coyotes from scavenging the trash.
Another recommendation: Don't feed or try to pet them. Doing so, the Wildlife Resource Commission says, rewards them for coming into close contact with humans. Once they becomes used to people, the animals lose their natural wariness of people and could become bold or aggressive.
The public information session is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the Orange County Animal Services Center, at 1601 Eubanks Road in Chapel Hill.
The session is free, and registration is not required.