LADUE, Mo. — When the Knapps found their cocker spaniel on their deck, the dog had 23 bites on its body, four broken ribs and badly chewed up legs.
The family spent about $2,800 trying to save 12-year-old Klyde before seizures set in and the Knapps had to put the dog to sleep.
When a pest control expert trapped a coyote in the family's yard in this wealthy St. Louis suburb last week, homeowner George Knapp felt Klyde's death had been avenged.
It's a coyote-eat-dog world in Ladue these days. And a coyote-eat-cat world, too. The loping, bushy-tailed predators are killing pets in this community of impressive, two- and three-story houses and broad, rolling lawns just 10 miles from the big city.
Gene Jezek, owner of Critter Control of St. Louis, said he has heard stories of nearly a dozen pets picked off by coyotes over the past two years in and around Ladue. He has trapped and killed six coyotes in the past few weeks in Ladue, population 8,600.
"I have some peace of mind knowing that six of them are gone," Knapp said. "It takes seeing your animal beaten to smithereens to do that."
Some Ladue homeowners are hiring professionals to set coyote traps and are watching over their pets and their children more closely, even though the coyotes have not attacked any humans. Beyond that, however, many Ladue yards are so large — some of them three acres — that fencing them in would be impractical.
In cities from Phoenix to Pittsburgh, residents have been swapping coyote stories. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program recorded 5,532 coyote complaints nationwide in 1997; by 2001 that had increased to 8,203.
New housing developments are infringing on coyotes' living space, and the coyotes are losing their fear of humans. They venture into yards to snack on pet food, rummage through trash cans or sample watermelons from gardens.
"We're expanding our population. They're expanding their population. And there is all this bumping into each other," said Mervin Hee of the California Department of Fish and Game.
Coyotes live throughout the continental United States and will eat both plants and animals. They normally prey on rabbits and rodents but will in rare cases eat dogs or cats. Territorial animals that they are, they will also attack a pet if they feel it is trespassing on their turf.
Southern California started a coyote education program after eight people in the region were bitten or otherwise wounded by coyotes in 17 confrontations in 2001, Hee said. That included a 3-year-old San Gabriel girl who was dragged off her front porch by a coyote.
Homeowners were told not to leave things out to eat and were warned to secure their trash. They were instructed in how to scare off a coyote by shouting, throwing rocks or squirting a hose at the animal.
Since the program started, Southern California has reported just two cases of coyotes injuring humans, Hee said.
Colette Fay said she worries about her children after a coyote made off with a ski parka a child had left on the ground in the family's yard in Barrington, R.I., a few weeks ago. Fay's son and a friend rolled a basketball at the coyote and tossed a hockey puck at it to startle it.
Fay's husband then tried to get the coat back by waving a flashlight and a broom at the animal. Each time, "it would move toward him," she said. The animal finally dropped the parka and loped off.
In Ladue, where the coyotes are coming out of the woods, Claudia Rogers said her cat disappeared in the summer of 2000, and she was not sure what had become of it until she left her puppy on a leash in the back yard more recently. "When I went out to get him, there were two coyotes about 30 feet away, staring at him," she said.
She said people are amazed when she tells them the animals live near her house. "Coyotes in the suburbs? C'mon," she said. "It sounds like you have an elephant in your back yard."