The increase in hikers on the Jokers Hill trail may be the cause of an unusual daylight attack of a Newmarket dog by an aggressive pack of coyotes, according to an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources spokesperson.
Typically when coyotes exhibit bold and aggressive behaviour, they have lost their fear of humans, according to Jolanta Kowalski.
"We know that happens in small portions of coyotes across North America, but in almost all cases, it's the result of habituation, meaning they are losing their fear of people because they associate people with food," said Kowalski.
It is possible too many hikers on the Jokers Hill trails are feeding the coyotes — either intentionally or inadvertently — by leaving food behind, she said.
The dog, Riley, suffered bites to his legs after being attacked by six coyotes in broad daylight on Friday, Oct. 23.
Riley and his owner were walking in the southeast corner of the trail system near the townhouse development. Riley was walking slightly off of the path when he was set upon by the pack
Veternarian Dr. Mark Cole of Abbotsford Animal Hospital treated the dog for the bite wounds to his front and rear legs.
"He was a little bit in shock and certainly in a lot of pain. He's a big boy, likely 120 pounds, but when coyotes pack up, they can do some damage. He didn't stand and fight so they were chasing him from behind," Cole told NewmarketToday.
"He had a lot of nasty bite wounds in his hind end. There were some cuts and slashes and some pretty deep muscle tears."
Cole said while he has treated pets following coyote attacks previously, what stood out in Riley's case was that it happened at 10 a.m., as coyotes are primarily nocturnal animals.
"It's very unusual. Typically, they come out at dusk. If they are packed up, as they are at this time of year, they usually hunt through the night.
The attack on Riley comes after three recent coyote attacks on humans in Vaughan.
According to a York Region Public Health notice on Oct. 21, three people were attacked and bitten near Pheasant Hollow Park from Oct. 15 to 17, with sightings in Agostino Park as well.
Another less likely cause for aggressive or erratic behaviour in coyotes could be mange, a parasitic infection that causes them to itch and lose fur, according to Kowalski.
Cole said when there is an outbreak of mange in the wild, he usually sees pets infected as well.
"I would guess they don't have mange. My guess is they've had a pretty good summer of hunting and feeding, and now they are getting ready for winter, and that pack mentality is different than as an individual," he said.
Public health has issued tips to follow should you encounter coyotes:
- Never approach or touch it.
- Do not turn your back on or run.
- Back away while remaining calm.
- Stand tall, wave your hands and make alot of noise.
- Carry a flashlight at night to scare off coyotes.
- Keep your pet leashed. Do not let pets chase coyotes as it could result in injuries to your pet.
If you believe there is a coyote that is an immediate danger to the public, you can call 911.
The unfortunate truth, said Kowalksi, is that coyotes who learn to be bold and aggressive never unlearn those behaviours. So if it continues to be a significant problem, the only way to solve the situation would be forced relocation or a cull — of the pack leader, at least, if not the whole pack.
The decision to take any action regarding the coyotes lies with the owner of the property, which in the case of Jokers Hill, is the University of Toronto.
Editor's Note, Oct. 29: This story has been edited to correct the location on the trail where the attack occurred.