Calgary woman campaigns for humans and coyotes to coexist peacefully

Arlene Vernon tapes up a homemade sign warning off-leash dog walkers the area is under surveillance — right next to a no-trespassing sign.

Owners are letting their dogs run off-leash in an area where coyotes are denning

Arlene Vernon has been watching coyotes from her home in Chaparral for more than a decade. (Submitted by Arlene Vernon )

Arlene Vernon tapes up a homemade sign warning off-leash dog walkers the area is under surveillance — right next to a no-trespassing sign.

And, as she stops to talk about why, a woman on her cellphone, dog leash in hand, walks by the news camera and steps out onto the provincial Transportation Utility Corridor between Stoney Trail and the community of Chaparral. 

The woman unclips the leash and lets her dog run free.

Vernon said she's started a campaign of sorts to protect the coyotes she's been watching in the area for more than 10 years. She's printed fliers on how to coexist with coyotes and taped them in the areas people frequent to access the green space.

She's also submitted a letter to her community association for publication.

Recently, she says, things have gotten out of hand and she's concerned for the animals and people in the area.

Arlene Vernon creates informational fliers and posts them in Chaparral to teach folks how to coexist with urban coyotes. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"I've honestly seen seven and eight-year-old children out there chasing the coyotes with their dogs," Vernon said. "It's completely unsafe, and it's unsanctioned. They're not allowed to be in these areas."

Vernon photographs wildlife and feels lucky to have the coyotes just on the other side of her fenced-in property. 

They help keep pest populations at bay.

"I'll tell you the two years we had construction in the back that ran off the coyotes, our houses were overflowing with mice and voles and we had gophers into our yard staking holes," Vernon said. "People were so happy when the coyotes finally came back."

I've seen multiple people who are putting that animal in that position where it's going to have to defend itself and it's not fair.- Arlene Vernon

Lately, Vernon has seen more incidents where dog-owners are letting their pets run free on the TUC. She's seen dogs chase and nip at the coyotes — and recently noticed a male coyote has developed a limp.

She's worried.

"I don't want people, their dogs, their children getting attacked. And I've seen multiple people who are putting that animal in that position where it's going to have to defend itself and it's not fair."

University of Calgary professor Dr Shelley Alexander says Vernon is being brave putting herself out there as an advocate for these animals.

"It takes a lot of courage to speak up, especially for wildlife," Alexander said. "And particularly for something like a coyote that is a species that evokes a lot of negative as well as positive reactions and mostly negative — good for her for doing that and recognizing that there is an issue here."

And she said Vernon is right, what's being observed on the TUC could turn a nice dog walk into a tragedy very quickly — especially with the denning season approaching. 

"Bottom line is there is a significant cost here to this animal and what's going to happen is this is going to backfire on people," Alexander said. 

She noted if this area has been used for denning by coyotes without incident, those are the animals you want to have around because they have a healthy relationship with humans and are also helping hunt the pest populations nearby.

But if the coyotes are harassed Alexander said that good relationship could change.

Arlene Vernon says coyotes have been good neighbours, they hunt pests. (Submitted by Arlene Vernon )

"It may not be that your dog that's running off-leash and gets attacked. But if there's enough times that this [harassment] is happening, somebody else is going to go out there and their dogs going to get attacked. And it might be somebody who is really responsible," Alexander said.

But Alexander said neighbourhoods need to look at themselves and recognize that they have the power to train these wild animals, in a way.

"To do the wrong thing, or to keep them doing the right thing," she said. "And we want coyotes … who have not been causing problems to stay, because they are going to hold that territory against somebody who might move in and not be a really good neighbour? 

Arlene Vernon has been posting these leaflets to warn people to reduce the chance of human-wildlife conflict with local coyotes. (Submitted by Arlene Vernon )

Vernon started printing out information leaflets about the coyotes with tips on how to coexist. 

Recently, she's had conversations with bylaw officers, and Fish and Wildlife about some measures that have more teeth than her informative notices.

Now, she's monitoring the situation and with another poster is giving dog-walkers one more chance to change their minds and follow the rules before she reports them for harassing wildlife. 

Complaints on the rise

The City of Calgary is dealing with an increasing number of calls and complaints from residents about coyotes. 

There were 1,099 coyote reports to Calgary's 311 service line in 2018. That number increased by 66 per cent to 1,830 in 2019.

In 2014, the University of Calgary estimated there were about 900 coyotes in the city. It's a hard number to pin down, since the city limits keep growing. That urbanization affects the coyote population.