A wandering coyote carrying a cat in its mouth was spotted in Newton
Joyce Hynds is no stranger to coyotes and has seen them often on her walks through the woods in Auburndale Park behind her Newton home. But the coyote Hynds saw last Saturday was remarkably, and heartbreakingly, different.
The animal appeared to be a large male, Hynds said, weighing more than either of her two black Labradors, both of whom weigh about 80 pounds. And, the coyote was out walking around 8:20 a.m., an unusual time for what she considers more of a night-time stroller.
And then there was the cat the coyote was carrying in his mouth — proof, apparently, of a successful hunt.
“It was heartbreaking,’’ Hynds said, to see that a domestic animal had fallen prey to the coyote. “He proceeded cruising down my street, carrying this cat in his mouth, and went in and out of people’s yards like he was trying to get back to his den.”
Hynds added: “The trail behind my house through the woods leads you to along the Charles River and all the way down to Waltham. I’ve walked that pathway so many times; I’ve run into coyotes. But not of this magnitude, not of this size . . . so this was very odd to see.”
However, MassWildlife bear and furbearing animal expert Dave Wattles said there was nothing unusual about Hynds’s encounter, at least from the standpoint of a wildlife biologist who tracks the coyote population in Massachusetts.
Wattles, who viewed Hynds’s photo, said the animal looks larger than it is because it already has its winter coat; in reality, the coyote probably weighs around 40 pounds, although some have topped out at 50 pounds.
Coyotes are opportunistic hunters, and the animal Hynds spotted probably had a chance encounter with the cat, not because the wild animal was stalking the cat beforehand. Eastern coyotes — the resident breed in Massachusetts — are omnivores and willing to eat whatever they come across.
“They will take advantage of anything,’’ Wattles said. (He said DNA testing shows the Eastern coyote is a mix of coyote (60 to 84 percent), wolf (8 to 25 percent), and domestic dog (8 to 11 percent).
As for the cat? Wattles said his state agency does not tally reports of missing domestic animals, but based on anecdotal information from local animal control officers, he said the actual number of domestic animals falling prey to coyotes is significantly underreported.
“We know it occurs regularly,’’ he said.
Predation of domestic animals won’t end any time soon. While there is no current, valid census on the number of coyotes in the state, Wattles said this fact is more illustrative of the status of the animal: “Every single community, including the city of Boston . . . is occupied by coyotes. . . . There is a very high density in Massachusetts.”
There are some key exceptions, however: No coyotes have crossed over to — and survived on — Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Wattles said.
Rob A. Halpin, spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, wrote in an e-mail that the loss of the cat was heartbreaking. “This behavior does not indicate any increase in ferocity. If our pets remain within easy reach, coyotes will prey upon them.”
Hynds said her two dogs were barking and growling at the coyote as it walked past the car where she had put her pets as she prepared to take them on an errand with her.
“The windows were down and they were barking and they were growling — and he was prancing alongside my vehicle,’’ she said. “Nothing fazed him.”
Wattles said the coyote’s lack of reaction stems from where the animals live; they are as exposed to police sirens, car horns, construction vehicles, and pedestrians just as much as humans are. “They don’t tend to startle easily because they are used to navigating the landscape,’’ he said.
Hynds said she went to the Newton police and showed them the photograph she had taken of the coyote with the cat in his mouth and then she shared it with the city’s animal control officer.
She said her photo, which documents evidence of predation on domestic animals, could solve a mystery for neighbors, many of whom have affixed posters about a missing cat on utility poles in her Auburndale neighborhood.
She also posted it on Facebook as part of a one-person public awareness campaign for owners of pets — and parents of small children.
“Be aware, folks,’’ she said. “Be aware. That’s my whole point . . . I am afraid for the small children who play in my neighborhood. I just don’t know what this animal’s capability is — except I know that he is after food.”
Wattles, although he has not spoken with Hynds, echoed her point. Coyotes are numerous because food supplies are extensive, be they prey animals or garbage and compost piles outside a home. Like Halpin, Wattles said if communities remove the food sources around the house, the animals might not come around.
If they do, however, Wattles said people should be cautious, but not retreat. Instead, haze the animal so it realizes who the dominant creature is.
“Chase it off your property. Yell at it. Run it into the woods,’’ he said. “Reinforce their natural fear of people. It makes them more cautious around people.”