Trish MacIsaac’s late November morning started its usual way - letting her dog Grover out to do his thing. MacIsaac’s two acres at the end of a road seemed safe enough, but soon she heard barking so loud she jumped out of bed.

By the time she reached the source of the noise, two coyotes were slinking off into the forest. MacIsaac was too late to save her 3-year-old terrier. Her story is a stark reminder of the dangers that can lurk in the shadows for small pets in the relative wilds of Western North Carolina.

Coyotes are relatively new to North Carolina, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. In 1985, it recorded sightings in only four state counties. Twenty years later, there were reports in all 100 counties.

Biologist Mike Carraway, the commission’s WNC regional supervisor, said the animals were not brought to the areabut rather migrated west from their original habitat.

“We know that they are here, (but) we don’t have any way to estimate the numbers of coyotes,” he said. “We know that they are pretty much everywhere in the state, and they present the most danger to small pets.”

Blue Ridge Animal Hospital veterinarian Al Wagener said it is not uncommon to hear about cats in the area being attacked by coyotes. But incidents involving dogs are rare, he said.

Coyotes, who roam in packs, tend to have vast territories that include thousands of acres, Carraway said.

“Coyotes can live in an area without people even knowing they’re there,” he said. “Just because you don’t see a coyote doesn’t mean they’re not there. They can easily be nearby without you even knowing it.”

Since the attack on her dog, MacIsaac said that she has heard from friends on the south side of N.C. 9 that several cats have disappeared in recent months. In recent weeks, she has also heard howls in the forest nearby.

“I really want to get the word out because my dog was on his own property defending his own home,” she said. “He was a special dog and died protecting his domain.”

MacIsaac said that she felt safe letting her dog out only in the morning, when the sun was up, allowing her to watch him. Carraway suggests exercising even more caution.

“You really should leash your pets unless you have a fenced yard,” he said. “Particularly if you believe that there are coyotes or bears in the area.”

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