The animal that bit a Norwell teenager Sunday was most likely a coyote, according to state wildlife officials.
“After interviewing the teen, we are confident that this was most likely a coyote attack,” said Marion Larson, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “By her description of its behavior, we believe it was rabid.”
Tara Hollander said her 16-year-old daughter, Anna, was sitting in her driveway listening to music when the animal came up to her and bit her on the arm. She didn’t see it coming, her mother said.
“It snarled at her and snarled as it was biting her,” Hollander said.
Hollander said her daughter swung her arm, trying to break free from the grip of the animal’s jaws, and then sprinted into the house.
She ran so fast that one of her shoes came off.
The coyote chased her as she ran but stopped when she reached the stairs. Once she was safely inside, she called 911, she said.
The animal then picked up her shoe in its mouth, trotted across the street, and disappeared into the woods.
Police searched the area but they were unable to locate the animal. But they did find Anna’s shoe, which was about 10 feet into the woods, she said.
“It has not been seen or heard from since that day,” Larson said. “If it was [rabid], it may be dead as the disease kills animals within a few days. We are still reviewing and following up with local officials to determine if there have been reports of unusual acting coyotes.”
Hollander said her daughter was left with several puncture wounds on her arm. She’s had to undergo a series of rabies shots, but she’s expected to make a full recovery, she said.
The incident is the 12th documented case of a coyote attack on a human in Massachusetts, Larson said.
“Coyote attacks on people are an uncommon occurrence,” Larson said.
Eastern coyotes first appeared in Massachusetts in the 1950s. The first documented incident of a coyote attacking a human in Massachusetts was in 1998, according to Larson.
“Previous to last weekend’s incident, there have been 11 instances of coyotes attacking people in the past 20 years,” Larson said.
In most of those cases, the coyotes tested positive for rabies or were suspected to be rabid. Some of the incidents involved coyotes that had become overly accustomed to people, she said.
MassWildlife officials said people should report any unusual animal behavior to local authorities.
To make your property less attractive to coyotes, MassWildlife officials recommend feeding your pets indoors. Make sure your garbage is secured in tough plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, and keep it indoors whenever possible. Clear away any fruit that falls from trees in your yard, and if you have bird feeders, clean up any birdseed that spills onto the ground. If you see coyotes around your yard regularly, you should probably remove the bird feeders, according to the MassWildlife website.
Larson said it’s also important to keep coyote attacks in perspective. (You’re far more likely to get bitten by a dog than a coyote. Approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control).
“I understand that people have a safety concern about coyotes, for themselves and children, but it might be useful to put animal bite frequency in perspective,” Larson said. “There have been 12 attacks on people by coyotes in 21 years across the entire state. A local Animal Control Officer probably gets more than 12 calls about dog bites in one year in one town.”