Nahant, Mass. — When coyotes approach children playing in the park, as they do with unnerving frequency in this tiny coastal town north of Boston, Kellie Frary springs into action, trying to drive the animals off while another adult quickly gathers Frary’s day care group.
“I don’t want to have to make that phone call, to tell a parent, ‘The coyote picked your kid,’” said Frary, a lifelong resident of Nahant, where 3,000 people inhabit 1 square mile.
No humans have been harmed by Nahant’s coyotes, estimated to number about a dozen. But after the disappearances of more than two dozen pets in roughly two years – and reports of three brazen, fatal attacks in 2022 on leashed dogs accompanied by their owners – the town is ever more on edge. Compact, densely populated and surrounded by water, it is a hard place for coyotes to leave, and a hard place for them to remain mostly invisible to humans, as they often do in cities and more sprawling suburbs, wildlife experts said.
Early in December, Nahant’s three-member Board of Selectmen voted to enlist federal sharpshooters to track and kill some of the coyotes, making Nahant the first municipality in Massachusetts to seek the expert help through a new state partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The plan has relieved many anxious residents, some of whom now carry whistles and baseball bats on strolls around town, and dress their dogs in $100 “coyote jackets” covered with metal spikes to repel attacks.
Lisa Wrenn watched a coyote snatch her 12-pound Chihuahua, Penelope, off a leash last summer as she stood on her front stairs. Left holding the leash and empty collar, she never saw the dog again, she said.
Although coyotes regard small pets as prey, attacks on people are rare and almost never fatal, according to coyote experts.
Support for the sharpshooting plan is not unanimous.
Opponents have argued for a more humane approach, hoisting handmade “Save the Nahant Coyotes” signs near the causeway into town. Francene Amari-Faulkner, a resident who has organized protests against the plan, said false claims and exaggeration have fueled hysteria and a rush to drastic measures. “If the town brings in sharpshooters, it’s going to be a bloodbath,” she said, “because then other towns will say, ‘We can do that, too.’”
Although a coyote problem on a peninsula jutting into the sea may be less than typical, human aversion to the species is well established.
Coyotes have long been viewed as a nuisance, and millions have been poisoned, shot and trapped by frustrated or frightened humans trying to control their population. But their signature trait may be their persistence. By the 1950s, they had pushed east into Massachusetts; by 2000, they were present everywhere in the state except the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, according to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.