Coyotes seen in Duluth

LAWRENCEVILLE - When Don Land took his three Chinese pugs into his backyard for their morning constitutional Friday, the last thing he expected to see was a coyote walking toward the dogs.

Make that two coyotes. No, four.

"It quite honestly raised goose bumps on my arms," Land said. "Not even 20 yards away, they were walking through there like this is their territory. I didn't want them to get a hold of my pups."

Land lives on Meeting Street in the Charleston Bay subdivision, which backs up to the 6-month-old Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth. He said his concern was not just for his pets - coyotes are known to eat small dogs and cats - but for the patients and families who walk near the hospital's parking lot.

Paula Martin, a spokeswoman for the hospital system, said no coyotes have been spotted on Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth's campus. If one were to venture on to the property, she said, security officers who patrol the area would call animal control and secure the area for patients and their families.

"They would not be at risk," Martin said.

But as Land learned Friday morning, Gwinnett County Animal Control doesn't have the authority to handle coyotes.

Charles Johnson, an animal control supervisor, said the rules are strict. And while they could respond if a coyote had entered a home, putting residents in immediate danger, animal control officers are only licensed to handle domestic animals.

They refer calls to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, where Senior Wildlife Biologist Don McGowan said he gets between 75 and 100 calls a month regarding the canines in the spring.

"This time of year, the coyotes and other wildlife are more visible because it's breeding season," he said. "They're in every county. Total numbers, I don't know, but at this day and age, it's not unusual to see them. They're here and they're here to stay."

Most of the time, McGowan said, coyotes can coexist with humans without any trouble. Although some attacks on humans have been recorded in the West, there haven't been any in Georgia.

Small animals should be kept inside, though, and pet food and garbage should not be kept near the house, McGowan said.

Coyotes are members of the dog family, and look like small dogs, he said. When a group is seen together, they are usually a family.

McGowan said most of the calls he gets about coyotes are more about people being surprised to spot them than an actual problem. When he gets a call, McGowan said, he tries to educate people about the critters.

If people are convinced there is a threat, they can call nuisance wildlife control officers who will trap coyotes, for a fee. People are also welcome to trap or shoot them themselves, as long as it is legal to discharge a gun where they live.

Land said that's not the case in Duluth, but he would rather keep his gun on him in case the coyotes come even closer. Duluth police, he said, told him that they can shoot the coyotes if they are there.

"I don't want it to turn into a gunfight at the OK Corral," he said. "If I go outside like that with the dogs, I'm going to be sure to have my gun in my holster, just to be sure. I have a carry permit and it could be dangerous."