Coyote confronts 3-year-old at Saginaw home

SAGINAW -- Three-year-old Colton Coursey was about to get into the car Wednesday morning for his daily ride to day care when he spilled his bowl of Cheerios on the ground.

His mother, Ricca Coursey, quickly strapped Colton's little brother, Carson, into his car seat, then dashed back inside the house to refill Colton's bowl.

Then came the scream.

Ricca ran back outside, where she found Colton being confronted by a coyote.

"I saw him lying on the ground on our sidewalk and a coyote a few feet away," she said. "I was just expecting to see horror, blood, everything. He looked fine. I picked him up and was screaming for my husband but he didn't hear me. The coyote started coming toward both of us and I ran into the house."

Her husband, Jarred Coursey, who had been showering, hurried outside and found the coyote still standing there.

With his wife and Colton safe inside and his 1-year-old son still strapped inside the car -- and oblivious to what was happening -- Jarred ran back inside, grabbed a shotgun and fatally shot the animal.

"It never left the yard," Jarred said. "It never acted afraid. Normally coyotes would run off. It was standing its ground. It was almost as if it was wanting something from us, like it expected us to give it something. We don't know if it was sick or what."

Colton said he saw the coyote but "he was coming too fast" and "knocked me over."

He suffered only a scratch or welt on his right hand that did not break the skin, but because rabies can spread through saliva, the coyote was shipped to Austin on Wednesday night to be tested. On Thursday afternoon, the family learned that the rabies test came back negative.

"We're very relieved and very happy," Jarred said.

While reports of coyotes attacking small pets are not uncommon, it's extremely rare for them to go after humans.

Between 1960 and 2006, there were 142 instances of a coyote biting a human in the United States and Canada, according to a 2009 report by the School of Environmental and Natural Resources at Ohio State University.

Drought contributes

A Saginaw official says coyote sightings are becoming more frequent, mostly because the drought has left the wild animals searching for new sources of food and water.

Continued growth of suburban areas has also forced wild animals, including coyotes, bobcats and foxes, from their normal habitat.

"It's not just a Saginaw problem," said Kevin McMillin, animal control supervisor for Saginaw. "This year with the drought and the new construction and decreasing habitats and everything like that, I'm sure a lot of different municipalities are having the same issues as we are."

McMillin said Saginaw animal control officers are receiving reports of coyote sightings about two or three times a month.

"We have actually sent out animal control officers to training courses to try to combat this," he said. "This is something new to your municipal animal control officer normally dealing with dogs and cats and those kinds of things. We've actually extended our training into trapping of wild animals and not just coyotes."

McMillin said that in the past few months, the department has begun using two live traps -- usually most effective when baited with venison -- in an attempt to capture and euthanize the coyotes. He called the animals "probably the hardest thing in the world to trap."

"They're wise to you," McMillin said. "If they get a whiff of human scent, they leave it alone."

First report of contact

McMillin said Wednesday's encounter was the first report of a coyote actually making contact with a human in Saginaw.

"I've never seen one quite this extreme," McMillin said. "Usually they are fleeing or running from humans. It just seems like this one here was sticking around. That's not normal behavior."

Jarred Coursey said that while his family had previously heard coyotes in their subdivision, the Courts of Willow Creek, Wednesday morning was the first time they saw one.

"We've just had so much growth. We've built on their habitats," he said. "Behind our house there's an old abandoned airport. We've actually heard the coyotes late at night howling back there before, but we never dreamed that something like this would happen.

"I don't know if he saw the size of my son and saw a meal. That was very nerve-racking. We're just really blessed that it wasn't worse."

Though Colton was a little clingy after the ordeal, he seems to have rebounded well, even asking his father whether he wanted to go "hunt for some coyotes."

"He's doing OK. Better than what we are," Ricca said. "I think it was more traumatizing for us that probably it was for him. They're a lot more resilient than we think they are."

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655