Chomped dog: Coyote blamed in pet mauling
"It hit me in the back of the knees, bit her, and took off running," recalls Steve Farmer about what happened the night of April 18– a night, he says, when the family dog was mauled by a coyote.
Farmer and his wife, Liz, were sleeping when the sound of barking pierced their southeastern Albemarle home. Thinking some neighborhood dogs were chasing their donkeys in the field again, Steve got up and took their dog Zoie out with him.
As Zoie ran ahead on a retractable leash, something, according to Farmer, emerged from the woods near their property and knocked him down.
"At first I thought it was one of my daughter's dogs," says Farmer. But he heard no barking. And what happened to Zoie was gory.
The three-year-old, a miniature pinscher–- a breed developed to hunt vermin–- had slipped her collar and fled back to the house. When Liz Farmer found Zoie hiding behind a toilet, a chunk of flesh that she describes as "the size of the inside of your palm" had been pulled from Zoie's hip.
The Farmers show a reporter a photograph that gives ample evidence of the severity of the attack. Evidence about the perpetrator, however, has been harder to find.
"For a coyote to attack a dog with its owner present is very unusual," says Mike Dye, a wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. "If it was trying to feed its pups is the only reason I can think of. Maybe the coyote is getting a little desperate; maybe it didn't see Mr. Farmer."
Brian Morse, a private wildlife biologist, says that eating pets–- or, as he puts it, "the dingo ate my baby"–- is not typical coyote behavior.
"I'm not in any position to refute that it was a coyote," says Morse, "but if it was, that is a freak occurrence. Coyotes are an opportunistic predator, and they're omnivores. They eat everything from grasshoppers, rodents, blackberries, and persimmons to a deer fawn."
Steve Farmer has no doubts that it was a coyote. His daughter saw one coming up the driveway that night, and two neighbors in the area, which lies just east of Ash Lawn-Highland, called to say they too have seen a coyote.
In February, the owner of a black Labrador in the Stony Point area reported that his dog, Buddy, had been attacked by a pack of coyotes. That, too, was considered a rare and/or unattributable attack by wildlife officials because the 90-pound Buddy is more than twice the size of a coyote, but the fact that coyotes inhabit Albemarle County is no surprise to hunters and farmers.
There's no official estimate of Virginia's coyote population, but if Mike Fies, also a wildlife biologist with the Game Department, were to speculate, he'd put the number at 50,000 to 75,000.
The Farmers are still shaken by the attack, but they say she Zoie is recovering.
"We'd used to let her out when we get home," says Steve. "Now when I go to the barn at night, I take a shotgun."