Naugauck resident Judy Vagt was out walking her dog one morning when three predators surrounded her in her King Street driveway and wouldn’t let her move.
They weren’t burglars, but they were just as scary: they were coyotes and they looked fierce.
“She started screaming and yelling, our Golden Retriever started growling and the coyotes ran off,” said Judy’s husband, Howie Vagt. “She was pretty shaken up.”
The Vagts, who live on the King Street off of Field Street (there are two in Naugatuck), are among several people on the west side of town who said they have recently seen or have evidence of coyotes in the area.
The Vagts said that in the past year, two of their cats have been killed by coyotes, which left nothing but a pile of fur in their yard both times, and that several turkeys have been killed in the area. They and other Naugatuck residents have made complaints to Naugatuck Animal Control and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or DEEP, about cats and dogs killed by coyotes.
In Middlebury, coyote sightings are not new.
"We've always had coyotes through the years near apple orchards and wooded areas," said Jim Roy, a dispatcher and animal control agent with the Middlebury Police Department.
"There were a couple of sporadic sightings near South Street and the center of town, but it was nothing out of the ordinary," he said. "Overall, we've had very few calls."
Roy said South Street in Middlebury is a popular place for coyotes to congregate.
"There's deer and apple orchards," he said. "Stuff they like to eat."
Jessica Jannetty left the following comment on the Naugatuck Patch Facebook page: 'I see them all the time. I live against the Larkin [Bridle] trail."
The Larkin State Bridle Trail runs through four towns: Middlebury, Naugatuck, Oxford, Southbury.
Despite South Street being a fairly people-populated area, he said coyotes usually mind their own business.
"We tend to coexist pretty well," Roy said.
Regarding increased sightings in Naugatuck, Roy said weather may factor into the coyote's behavior.
"Fall came earlier this year," he said.
A Petition Seeking the Removal of Coyotes
King Street residents have started circulating a petition in an attempt to show the DEEP that they want the animals removed from their neighborhoods. The DEEP could hire trappers to remove the coyotes if they become too much of a nuisance in an area.
Vagt believes that day has come.
“They are nothing but a dirty, rotten animal that just kills and eats,” he said. “It’s becoming a big problem for a lot of people in this area.”
What the DEEP Says About Coyotes
The DEEP, which oversees coyotes and other wildlife, has little doubt that the coyotes are in Naugatuck neighborhoods and could be harming domestic pets.
Chris Vann, a wildlife biologist with DEEP, says people can protect themselves by making sure coyotes are not getting access to human food or food left for domestic pets. He also said dog walkers should be careful, particularly at night.
“We certainly get our share of calls from all over the state about coyotes,” he said. “There is a prevalent coyote population that is considered abundant in some areas" — they are not considered "abundant" in Naugatuck at this point.
From the DEEP’s website:
“As coyotes have become more common, public concerns about coyotes attacking pets and people, especially children, have increased. Although some coyotes may exhibit bold behavior near people, the risk of a coyote attacking a person is extremely low. This risk can increase if coyotes are intentionally fed and then learn to associate people with food.
“Coyotes will attack and kill pets, especially cats and small dogs (less than 25 pounds). The best way to protect pets is to not allow them to run free. Cats should be kept indoors, particularly at night, and small dogs should be on a leash and under close supervision at all times. The installation of a kennel or coyote-proof fencing is a long-term solution for protecting pets. In addition, homeowners should eliminate other sources of attraction to coyotes including pet food left outdoors, table scraps on compost piles, and decaying fruit below fruit trees.”
Couple Loses Pet
Rich Brenia lives in a quiet, residential neighborhood a few blocks from Millville Avenue on Naugatuck’s west side.
Brenia, who lives with his wife Jessica on Casper Court, said he’s lived near the area most of his life and hasn’t heard about coyotes in Naugatuck. He doesn’t live particularly close to a forest, so he never thought twice about letting his dogs outside for a couple minutes, unleashed sometimes, when they needed to relieve themselves.
Now he’s forced to think about coyotes and other wildlife that may be lurking in his neighborhood at night. That’s because in April, Brenia let the couple's 80-pound boxer outside with their 12-pound pug Bruno. As he did many times before, Brenia let them out without a leash because he was washing dishes in the kitchen and planned to get them quickly.
After a few moments, the boxer came back, but Bruno never did.
Brenia searched the neighborhood for several hours and never found the one-and-a-half-year-old Bruno. The next day, animal control called and said they had found the dog, which had been mauled and killed; its body was in someone’s backyard three blocks away from Brenia's house.
Brenia said he realizes his dogs should have been on a leash, and he makes sure they are now (the couple recently got a new pug). Still, he said, he wishes he knew there were coyotes in the area.
“The woman we dealt with from animal control said it was definitely a coyote kill and that it was the fourth one in the area that month,” he said. “I don’t know what she meant by 'in the area,' or how far that goes, but my thought was, 'Why are we just hearing about this now?' I’d like to have known that a coyote was in the area.
"People have a right to know," he said. "I don’t understand why it seems to be hush-hush."
Editor's Note: Jaimie Cura contributed to this article.