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Nighttime coyote sightings raise howl in Pittsburgh neighborhoods

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, April 29, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

For at least the past month, Joe Martinelli's neighbors in Duquesne Heights have been warning the avid outdoorsman about coyotes they've seen chasing deer and roaming through backyards and local woods.

"A couple of people told me they were worried because they thought the animal might be stalking their dogs and cats," said Martinelli, 35, of Greenleaf Street. "And the other day my 13-year-old cousin told me she saw one near the house and screamed at it to try to scare it off."

About midnight Monday, Martinelli spotted one of the predatory animals on the hillside behind his house staring down his German shepherd.

"I had no idea whether the animal was rabid or might be aggressive toward the dog, and I didn't want it hurting anybody or killing pets in the neighborhood," he said. "So I got my shotgun, snuck outside and dropped it. I've been hunting since I was 12, and this was the first time I ever shot a coyote.

"I plan to have him mounted."

A member of the canine family that can grow to 50 pounds, Eastern coyotes -- the variety found in Pennsylvania -- have become more common than black bears or bobcats, according to the state game commission. The statewide population is estimated at 25,000 to 30,000. They have been spotted in every county.

Alphonso Randolph, who works for the Mt. Washington Community Development Corp., said his organization has received "about a half dozen" reports in recent weeks of coyotes in Grandview and Olympia parks.

While coyotes are found mostly in heavily wooded rural areas, there have been sightings in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Erie and the Allentown area, said Tom Fazi, a game commission education officer. Coyotes can be killed year-round by hunters with any type of valid game license, Fazi said. Martinelli said he holds such a license.

State game officer Gary Fujak said coyotes are rarely spotted because they are shy and primarily active at dawn and dusk.

"People don't see them much, but they've been around for many years," Fujak said. "I've seen them in the backyard of my house in the Coraopolis area."

The only documented instance of a coyote's attacking a person in Pennsylvania was several years ago in the eastern part of the state, he said.

"In that case, the animal was rabid," Fujak said. "In most cases, a coyote will run as soon as it sees a person."

Martinelli said his encounter with a coyote has piqued his interest.

"I really never thought much about hunting or trapping coyote, but I'm going to get into it now," he said.

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