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'Felt like an eternity': Newmarket resident pursued by coyote

Attacks reported in Burlington recently, but expert says coyotes minimal risk to humans
File photo

Liz Holtby got an unexpected follower as she went out for her early morning jog with her dog in Newmarket this week.

Running on the paved Tom Taylor Trail near Tannery Mall, she said a coyote began approaching her. She said her shouts did nothing to dissuade the coyote, who kept following them about 20 feet behind for about half a kilometre.

“Felt like an eternity. I just kept running faster,” she said. “I was a little bit rattled at the time. I couldn’t really do much other than just run.” 

Some Newmarket residents have expressed concern about large coyotes approaching them recently, while cities like Burlington are killing coyotes due to attacks in recent weeks. But local experts and authorities say coyote encounters can be solved by avoiding feeding them. 

The close encounter will keep Holtby on a different route, she said. On instinct, she said she let her dog off leash to try and ward off the coyote and avoid getting slowed down by having to pull along her agitated pet, with some tension between the two canines. Ultimately, she said they were able to get away without the coyote attacking.

“I’ll just change my route,” she said, adding that she reported the presence of the coyote to the province. “I don’t know if I can say lucky, because I don’t know if they’re aggressive or they’re afraid of us.” 

Local biologist Aileen Barclay said coyote attacks are very rare and rarely lead to any substantial injury. She said coyotes only approach humans either because humans are feeding them, or they are trying to protect territory ― often from dogs.

“They’ve learned to steer clear of people and they're very well adapted to people,” she said. “However, people feel for them and they start to feed them … Then they get conditioned that people means food. They will follow people expecting their food.”

She said coyotes pose barely any risk to humans. She said most attacks on dogs occur when dogs are off-leash, and people should be sure to keep a dog on a short leash when walking to avoid conflict.

“There’s this whole cloud of negativity and evil around wolves and coyotes,” she said, adding people will mistake coyotes for coyote-wolf hybrids due to their large winter coats. “The perception of what’s happening seems worse than it is.” 

The Town of Newmarket's policy is to leave coyotes alone and educate residents about their presence. The town keeps a coyote tracker on its website of recent sightings. It advises residents to ensure there is no food available to coyotes on their property and never let pets run at large. When approached, the town said you should stay calm and back away slowly, using whistles or alarms as a deterrent. It said you should never turn your back on a coyote.

Still, coyote attacks have happened, including in York Region. A Newmarket dog was injured by a pack of coyotes on a trail in 2020, and three people were bitten by coyotes in Vaughan in 2020.

More recently in Burlington, officials have stepped up coyote efforts after attacks on people and increased fines for those caught feeding wildlife. Newmarket and other communities do outlaw wildlife feeding in bylaws.

But Barclay said Burlington’s situation is a scenario where feeding should have been addressed sooner to avoid such an outcome. She said Newmarket’s bylaw against wildlife feeding is good, and enforcing it should help prevent close encounters.

“Fix the problem, not the symptom,” she said.