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Coyote Ugly

Are pet-eating prowlers lurking in Overton Park?

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A prowler is rumored on the loose, and he's supposedly attacking cats and small dogs. At least, that's what the hand-written flyers glued to electrical boxes at the corner of McLean and North Parkway say.

The signs warn that coyotes are loose in Overton Park and killing pets.

Is there any truth to these signs or is it just the work of some prankster intent on wasting paper and scaring pet owners?

Andy Tweed, a local game warden for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), says it's entirely possible that coyotes are residing in Midtown.

"I haven't heard any reports from Midtown lately, but I saw one yesterday around Hacks Cross and Nonconnah. There are coyotes all throughout the county," says Tweed. "It's possible to have one say, down around the Pyramid.

He explains how urban sprawl has pushed coyotes from forested areas into more developed ones. He says they often follow streams or creeks that run into neighborhoods and become disoriented. Once they are in an urban area, they can easily find food in garbage cans or, in some cases, people's backyards.

"If you have one of these small frou-frou dogs or a cat, the coyote is going to see that as lunch, not something to breed with," Tweed says.

Cheryl Gillespie, a receptionist at Pet Care Professionals in Midtown, used to walk her three dogs in the wooded area near Rainbow Lake in the mornings. One day, her two large dogs actually chased a coyote through the woods.

"I'm scared they'll attack my dogs," she says. "In fact, I hardly ever go there anymore because of coyotes."

Tweed estimates that coyotes in the county number in the thousands. There were several reports in 2003 in the Orange Mound area of a coyote killing pets, and in the early '90s, a coyote and her six pups haunted Central Gardens for months until a TWRA agent shot her and five of the pups.

While he advises keeping pets inside at night, Tweed says the coyotes pose little risk to humans.

"If you see one in Overton Park, just don't go mess with it," he says. "That's like being in Yellowstone Park and seeing a grizzly bear. You don't walk up and smack him."

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