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By Meghan Daniel for The Island Eye News

For Karen Britton of Mount Pleasant and her Boykin Spaniel, Lula, what began as a habitual beach walk on Isle of Palms the morning of Tuesday, April 13 ended as a testament to the grit of the small but resilient state dog.

Britton and Lula were between the beach accesses at 24th and 25th Avenue at about 6:45 a.m. when the owner knelt down to pick up after her pup, who was roaming nearby off-leash. (The city allows dogs to be off-leash from 5-9 a.m. between April 1 and Sept. 14.) In the meantime, the dog had managed to wander out of sight. When the typically responsive Lula didn’t respond to her owner’s voice commands, Britton headed for the dunes, where she had seen Lula moments before. Halfway up the dune, she heard Lula’s squeals, followed by the “very traumatic, very scary” sight of a band of four coyotes attacking her dog.

“I knew that there could be coyotes, but I didn’t know there’d be four on top of her,” Britton said. The coyotes scattered at the sight and sounds Britton imposed but left behind a severely wounded Lula. The worst injuries were on her right side, where the coyotes left a hole that required three layers of stitches and two vet trips. Lula also sustained three lacerations on her head and neck that required staples and a few other puncture wounds that healed on their own. Britton shared her husband’s conjecture: “If I would’ve been one more minute or even 30 more seconds [before interrupting the attack], they probably would’ve killed her.”

Once both dog and owners had settled down from the attack and consequent trip to an urgent care veterinarian, the Brittons reached out to the Isle of Palms Police Department as well as South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Britton was surprised that the city’s Animal Control Officer, William Collins, told her that the department was aware of the coyote den near the 24th Avenue beach access, given there was no signage indicating the presence of coyotes in this particular area at the time of the attack. When she asked why this was, she said she was told that the department was waiting on permission from SCDNR to put up signs, although Britton said her husband spoke with a representative from SCDNR who told him that IOPPD didn’t need permission from the organization to install this type of warning signage. 

Since the attack — which was, according to Collins, the first reported attack on a pet by a coyote in the last two to three years — Collins reported that the department has installed signage around the beach access at 24th Avenue warning of the presence of coyotes in the area as well as cautioning people and pets to stay clear of the dunes, where coyotes hunt rabbits and rats. One of the problems the department has run into in regard to signage near the den, he explained, is that the coyotes aren’t on the beach access; they’re under a boardwalk on private property. “We’re working with the residents that live there to try to figure out a solution,” he said.

Collins participated in aQ&Aduring the department’s most recent “Coffee with a Cop” Facebook Live series, during which he responded to a number of commonly asked questions and concerns regarding coyotes on the island. He noted that, first and foremost, the increased activity of coyotes this month is directly related to the animals’ breeding season. While coyotes are typically nocturnal hunters, they’re apt to be seen during the day now more than usual because they have additional mouths to feed. Still, he remarked that the reported sightings during the current breeding season have been surprisingly low thus far and have been isolated to the aforementioned beach accesses.

He also shared ways to avoid coyote encounters and to de-escalate encounters if they do occur. “During these months especially, when it’s breeding season, just make sure you’re keeping an eye out. Don’t leave your pets unattended, especially in backyards [and] make sure there’s proper fencing, especially if you’re in an area where there’s been sightings.” He emphasized the importance of keeping pets leashed on beach accesses, even during off-leash hours, until they reach the beach. If you do encounter a coyote, he said, you can “stand your ground, wave your arms, make yourself appear bigger. Do not break eye contact with them or turn your back to them. Keep an eye on your surroundings.” Collins asked that coyote sightings be reported to IOPPD at (843)-886-6522. The department keeps a spreadsheet of coyote sightings that helps them maintain an awareness of the population size and whereabouts of coyotes on the island.

IOPPD is not required to take any particular action when a coyote attacks a pet, although Collins said that the department is working with SCDNR to ascertain how best to approach this circumstance. The city does not currently have a license to trap coyotes, largely due to the high cost and low level of efficacy of the traps in recent years. In the past, the city has used a third-party contractor to deal with coyotes, although it does not currently have this contractor on retainer. 

Britton reported that after “a few tough days” and a dose of antibiotics, Lula is recovering well. Had the 28-pound two-year-old dog been any smaller or much older, she suspects the outcome could’ve been much worse. Britton plans to resume beach jaunts with her four-legged friend once she heals, though they won’t go in the mornings and will likely head to Breach Inlet instead of their normal route along IOP.

Animal Control Officer William Collins updated The Island Eye News on Tuesday, May 4 that the coyotes in discussion have been trapped by Critter Control, a company that the homeowners contracted and that the city works with on occasion. The coyotes are “no longer on 25th Avenue.” No word on where they were taken. 

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