Coyotes on the prowl

About 27,000 coyotes per year are taken by hunters in South Carolina, and an additional 2,400 by trappers.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Patriots Point is a popular spot in this town -- waterfront hotels, condominiums, sports fields, a museum, a golf course. And now coyotes.

The coyotes have been popping out of the brush in the past few weeks. Two women have reported attacks on their pet dogs, including one in which a coyote grabbed a schnauzer in its teeth and had to be frightened into letting it go. Police have set out warning signs, and strollers now carry whistles to scare them off.

It's the latest in a trend of more appearances by the wily critter in the Lowcountry and elsewhere.

Wait a minute, you say -- coyotes in Mount Pleasant? The busy suburb right across the harbor from the urban Charleston peninsula? That's not the half of it. Some 27,000 coyotes per year are taken by hunters in South Carolina, an additional 2,400 by trappers. Trapping around Patriots Point already has yielded six.

"It really doesn't surprise me to hear about a coyote showing up anywhere," said Jay Butfiloski, S.C. Natural Resources Department furbearer project supervisor. "They've been in all counties in the state for some time now. All the indices are their numbers are increasing."

Star Israel cautiously avoided the coyote that would sit along Harry Hallman Boulevard near Memorial Waterfront Park when she walked her two schnauzers. Then last month, on a morning walk, a rabbit spooked across the road in front of her.

"A coyote came out of the woods from behind me and attacked my dogs," she said. "I screamed and screamed and screamed."

The barking dogs took turns charging on their leashes, distracting the snarling coyote from each other. But as a passerby raced up to help Israel, the coyote got its mouth on Cooper, the smaller schnauzer.

The passerby began screaming, too, and threw things at the coyote until it let go. Israel later learned someone in a nearby condominium had been leaving food out for the coyotes. Cooper had his stitches removed on Friday and should be OK.

"If it wasn't for that good Samaritan, Cooper would have been gone," Israel said.

Elliott Smalley has lived in Mount Pleasant since back when Rifle Range Road was "the sticks," he said, and he's alarmed that he's now seeing coyotes. "Wild hogs, deer, coons and foxes, but I never had seen a coyote," he said. He worries about rabies and the threat to pets and small children. "I grew up when this was the country, so I'm used to things like that. But this is like a new threat."

The threat has gotten state legislators' attention. Coyotes already are hunted under state permit as nuisances. But S.C. Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, introduced a bill in this session to legalize hunting coyotes at night using artificial light. It was passed quickly by the Senate, approved by the House of Representatives' Agriculture Committee and is now in the House.

The only sticking point was whether to allow a stronger rifle than a .22, said Rep. Steve Parker, R-Boiling Springs. As a matter of public safety, the Agriculture Committee decided no, he said. There was no disagreement about going after coyotes at night.

"There's been an increase in attacks. It's gotten out of hand," he said.

Israel doesn't want to see coyotes killed, but she wants them out of Patriots Point.

"There's kids out in that area. Kids play in that park," she said.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or bpetersen@postandcourier.com.