Mary Trice let her dog, a seven-year-old male neutered Maltese named Rufus, outside for a bathroom break on Dec. 10, and he never returned.
She found his partially eaten body the next day in a wooded part of her backyard. A representative of the Falls Church Animal Shelter told her the predator was most likely a coyote.
“Rufus was a great dog in the sense he was very playful. He would be so excited when I got home, he would jump around,” Trice says. “He was the happiest dog in the world.”
Trice’s backyard, on Bradley Circle, backs up onto a woodsy stream valley. The yard is fenced but she says the fence was Jerry-rigged.
After she let Rufus outside on Sunday, she whistled for him to come back but didn’t hear anything, which she was unusual. Just beyond the fence she saw an animal which she thought might have been a fox but was gray and was larger, about the size of a golden retriever. “I thought that was odd and had a weird feeling,” she recalls.
It was dark at the time, so Trice waited until the next morning, and by then, there was nothing left.
The Fairfax County Police Department confirmed in a blog post about the incident that “coyotes are now established and widespread in Fairfax County” and noted that wildlife officials have experienced an increase in the number of calls reporting coyote sightings in recent weeks across the county.
Pets left unattended outside may be at risk to coyotes, especially during nighttime and early morning hours, the FCPD warned.
Fairfax County wildlife officials offer these tips to prevent coyote attacks:
- Never feed or attempt to “tame” a coyote.
- Keep small pets inside and do not leave them unattended outside.
- Place garbage and compost in an animal-proof container, such as a metal trash can with latches on the lid or secure with bungee cords.
- Keep trash inside until the morning of trash pick-up whenever possible.
- Do not feed pets outside or store pet food outside.
- Pick up ripe, fallen fruit and do not let it accumulate on the ground.
- Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting small rodents and other coyote prey.
- Trim shrubbery to ground level to remove hiding cover.
- Close up all openings under porches, decks, crawl spaces, or out-buildings where animals might establish dens.
- Keep dogs on short leashes (less than six feet) while walking outside.
- Provide secure shelters for poultry, rabbits, and other vulnerable animals.
If you see a coyote around your house, wildlife officials recommend using “hazing techniques” to scare it off, such as yelling and waving your arms; using noisemakers, such as a whistle, pots and pans, or a can full of pennies; throwing non-edible objects at it, such as sticks, stones, or tennis balls; or spraying it with a water hose.