Cat's killing prompts fresh calls to curb increasingly 'daring' coyotes

A Westboro/McKellar Park resident is calling on the City of Ottawa to do more to curb what he describes as a growing coyote problem across the city, one which he believes claimed the life of his beloved two-year-old cat. 

City setting up traps in 1 wooded area Friday

Westboro/McKeller Park resident Maher Arar argues the City of Ottawa's response this year to urban coyotes is unrealistic for pet owners. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

A Westboro/McKellar Park resident is calling on the City of Ottawa to do more to curb what he describes as a growing coyote problem across the city, one which he believes claimed the life of his beloved two-year-old cat. 

Maher Arar's family welcomed Pico, short for Piccolo, into their household at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In return, the cat provided great comfort to the family, said Arar. 

But in mid-February Pico failed to return home from his daily walkabout in the neighbourhood.

"I was so depressed for a week," said Arar. "It was a constant search and nothing came up."

Arar's two-year-old family cat Pico is believed to have become prey to a coyote roaming the neighbourhood. (Maher Arar)

Weeks later, a neighbourhood resident who spotted Arar's lost cat ad reached out with sad news. 

"He told me he saw a coyote with Pico's tail in his mouth," he said.

Arar, who describes himself now as an entrepreneur, became a household name more than a decade ago following his arrest by U.S. authorities and subsequent torture in Syria. A public inquiry led to an apology from the Canadian government and a cash settlement.

He wants the city to look into what might be driving the wild animals into residential areas given an increase in coyote sightings.

"It is not just restricted to one neighbourhood. It seems to be a problem that's in probably every neighbourhood in our city," he said.

"What's scary is they're becoming daring."

Coyote cull in Riverside Park

In response, the city is setting up live traps to catch and if necessary euthanize one or two coyotes in Riverside Park.

A wildlife expert hired by the city determined the animals are "significantly and irreversibly habituated to humans … and pose an increased risk to the public," according to Roger Chapman, the city's director of bylaw and regulatory services.

Coyote carrying an animal down a residential street.
A resident snapped this picture of a coyote in Riverside Park South on Aug. 23. It's walking down the street with an unknown animal in its mouth. (Submitted)

Despite how alarming it can be, it's not uncommon to see coyotes in the suburbs of Ottawa, said Chapman, and sometimes in urban areas near green spaces like rivers or rail corridors.

"It is appreciated that residents are concerned when they see an animal such as a coyote near their neighbourhood. It is, however, important to be aware that most coyotes are not a danger to humans," Chapman said. 

Residents can discourage visits from the mainly carnivorous, dog-like animals by keeping food off their property: picking up around fruit trees, forgoing bird feeders and securing garbage and compost bins, for instance.

"The presence of coyotes is important to maintain a healthy ecosystem and to keep the rodent population low and at a healthy rate. It is not advisable, nor effective, to remove them as it generally results in another coyote or group of coyotes re-occupying the area shortly thereafter," said Chapman.

Live with coyotes, says Coyote Watch Canada

The founding executive director of Coyote Watch Canada, a non-profit that works on a "non-lethal, sustainable" human-coyote relationship, wants cities to do better at learning to live with coyotes. 

"Coyotes passing through a neighborhood is not an indication that they're behaving inappropriately," said Lesley Sampson.

The animals do not pose a serious risk to humans, even if they've become habituated to eating from compost bins and other sources of food in a residential area, she said. 

"Coyotes don't want to have anything to do with us. Pets are a different story, so keep those cats indoors or on a leash when being walked."

Sampson says trapping and euthanizing urban coyotes is unnecessary, but the alternative requires municipalities to properly educate and support residents to co-exist with wildlife. (Submitted)

Sampson's biggest critique is when municipalities resort to trapping and killing coyotes without, in her opinion, doing enough on the ground to educate and support residents to avoid creating conditions that attract coyotes in the first place.

"Once they lethally remove those coyotes there will be more that will take their place, and so we start the cycle over again," said Sampson.

While Arar is not sure trapping and/or euthanizing coyotes is necessary in his neighbourhood, he does feel more needs to be done by the city.

"The message that we always receive from the city is the standard message of 'keep your pet home,'" said Arar.

"But it's impossible to keep a pet home who is used to going outside, and in my opinion it's just a matter of time before something serious happens."


Giacomo Panico

CBC Reporter and Host

You can reach Giacomo by email

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