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A Massachusetts town invaded by coyotes calls in the sharpshooters

A sign at the Nahant Thicket Wildlife Sanctuary warns people about coyotes. Compact, densely populated and surrounded by water, Nahant is the first municipality in Massachusetts to ask federal sharpshooters to target problem coyotes.SOPHIE PARK/NYT

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 this year on leashed dogs accompanied by their owners — the town is ever more on edge. Its isolated geography — Nahant is essentially an island connected to the mainland by a narrow, 1.5-mile causeway — contributes to the sense of menace felt by some residents.

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.

“I love animals, and I don’t want to see them killed, but some child on a porch is going to get taken,” said Lisa Wrenn, who 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.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.