Owner of dog killed by coyote in Calgary upset by lack of park warning notices

When Sylvia Kowalewski took her dog Zabka for an evening walk in Karl Baker Off-Leash Park two weeks ago, she unknowingly left her family pet vulnerable to the coyote attack because of a lack of warning signs in the area, she says.

City says too many coyote signs get 'tuned out' by the public

Sylvia Kowalewski stands next to a sign she made herself to warn other pet owners after her dog Zabka was killed by coyotes in St. Andrews Heights. (Helen Pike/CBC Calgary.)

Sylvia Kowalewski says that when she took her dog Zabka for an evening walk on Aug. 12 along the ridge of Karl Baker Off-Leash Park, she unknowingly left the Yorkie-Bichon vulnerable to a fatal coyote attack because there were no wildlife notices in the area. 

"[Zabka] was running back and forth and suddenly, I kind of lost her from my sight, and I heard this little squeak," Kowalewski said.

"At that time, I didn't know exactly what that was. Now I know."

After spending two days frantically searching St. Andrews Heights for Zabka, friends found the dog's body, which had been bitten, Kowalewski says.

She also told the CBC that nearby residents said they had seen evidence of dens and coyotes in the area. 

'I think it's urgent, so I just did my own thing'

Kowalewski says that she called the City of Calgary on Aug. 15 to ask for coyote warnings to be posted, and was told that while her request would be forwarded, off-leash areas are known to be inhabited by wildlife that can be dangerous for pets.

"[The city] just told me that it's common knowledge … and that people should know to keep the pets on the leash," Kowalewski said. "I was told that, yes, the signs will be posted, but [the city has] their priorities, so they will do it whenever they're ready."

After waiting nearly two weeks for signs to appear in the northwest community, Kowalewski has made her own posters in an effort to keep other dog-walkers from having a similar experience.

"I think it's urgent, so I just did my own thing … to make the public aware," she said.

City says miscommunication may have occurred

When contacted by CBC Calgary for comment, Chris Manderson with Calgary Parks said there was no record of Kowalewski's call, and that a miscommunication may have occurred. 

"Now that we know about it, we have actually asked our contractors to go and have a look and report back," Manderson said. 

"Based on what they come back with, I would expect within a day or so we'll know what the situation is, and then usually we'll follow up with a sign fairly quickly if we need to."

According to Manderson, coyote warnings are posted by the city only after there has been a confirmed conflict. 

"If we put up signs everywhere there were coyotes, what we find in our experience is people will tune that kind of signage out," Manderson said. "We do it specifically when we have a risk or a concern so that it's new."

The city will euthanize aggressive coyotes, Manderson says, but only in rare instances. It encourages urban coyotes to coexist at a distance from people and pets, stating on its website that they "help control populations of other wildlife."

It also advises to keep dogs leashed "even in off-leash areas" to "avoid a negative encounter" with coyotes. 

To report coyote sightings, call 311. 

With files from Helen Pike and Elissa Carpenter