GUYSBOROUGH, Nova Scotia – Heather Toole is no stranger to what lurks in the deep, dark woods of Guysborough County. She lives in Hadleyville and delivers mail up and down the roads that hug Chedabucto Bay. But even she was rattled by what she confronted not 500 feet from her back door early one morning last week. 

 “It was daylight and I’d let my dog out,” she says. “When I went to call her, she was barking up at the little turnaround spot at the top of my road. No way would she come. So, I grabbed my little jacket and started to go up there.”

 As she arrived, she saw Macy, her pit bull-Labrador mix, standing nearly face-to-face with a large, visibly upset coyote. “They were about 10 feet from each other,” she says. “The coyote was all hackled up. I didn’t see him until I got right there. I clapped my hands really loud, and he turned and slowly started to walk away. That’s when Macy started to follow. Well, I just screeched and lunged for her.”

 Heather and Macy made it back to the house without mishap. Still, “It really hit me,” she says. “I mean, I’d never walk up to a dog I didn’t know. But I just saved my own dog from being killed. Macy is very strong, but this coyote was bigger than her … My hands started shaking.”

 It’s not the first time Heather has encountered wildlife in her travels along the shore. Five years ago, she nearly lost Macy to a coyote in a nearby graveyard. That time, the pooch came when called. She knows that other pets around there haven’t been as lucky. “The coyotes, you know, they try to lure the dogs. I’ve lost cats to them right in my yard.”

 Still, she’s not alarmist. Like everyone else around here, she knows wild predators – notably coyotes – are a fact of life in rural Nova Scotia if only because, over the years, they’ve grown accustomed to us and our ways.

 “Yeah, they are not afraid us at all, if they ever were,” says field naturalist, and retired government wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft, who lives in Pomquet. “They are very opportunistic, and they will try things … Once, after I’d got out of government more than 20 years ago, I got hired by a tribal council to do a survey on 1,000 acres of [nearby] First Nations land. I was in the forest and this coyote came straight at me. At the last second, it veered off. I just stood there with my pack and gear. Within a matter of minutes, it did it again. If I had run, I think it would have been a different story. When I say they are opportunistic, I mean that they can seize a moment.” 

 Tragically, that seems to have been what happened to Taylor Mitchell, the Toronto tourist who died after being mauled by coyotes as she hiked the Cape Breton’s Skyline Trail in 2009. It’s still Canada’s only known fatal coyote attack. “Obviously, we’ve seen some incidents,” says Andrew Boyne, director of wildlife for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables. “There was one in Cape Breton last summer where a cyclist was bitten … But really, we have very few incidents of truly aggressive coyotes.”

 Nor, he says, is there much evidence that coyote numbers overall are increasing in Nova Scotia or even, specifically, in Guysborough County. “People ask why we don’t have an estimate of coyotes in the province. I joke and say, ‘It’s because they hide and they keep moving.’ But actually, that’s kind of right.”

He adds: “Coyotes are ubiquitous in the province, and they are secretive by nature. In 2023, we had 191 complaints from the public. But after that incident in Cape Breton in 2009, we’d received 1,000 reports, and I’ve always wondered what that’s possibly driven by … I think it has to do with the fact that the public is probably getting a bit more used to coyotes and is recognizing that they are not dangerous to humans, for the most part.”

That may be a hard sell to Heather Toole. 

“You might go a month or so and not hear a coyote [howl] around here,” she says. “And then, sometimes, it’s every night or in the morning … When Macy needs to go out before bed, she’s on a leash … That coyote the other morning wasn’t scared of me, and I haven’t walked to my neighbour’s at night for a while now.”

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 27, 2024 at 07:21

This item reprinted with permission from   Guysborough Journal   Guysborough, Nova Scotia

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated