A six-year-old Rye girl was tackled and bitten by a pair of coyotes Friday night in front of her home on LaSalle Avenue, Rye police said.
The animals bounded from a nearby sidewalk to the girl's front yard, where she was playing with friends at 9:15 p.m. As the girl began to run, the two coyotes "singled her out for the attack" and brought her to the ground, scratching and biting her amid screaming and confusion until an adult was able to scare them away, Rye police Commissioner William Connors said. The most likely reason the animals had for targeting her was her small size.
The girl was brought to Greenwich Hospital, where she was treated for bite marks to her shoulder, upper thigh and neck, as well as scratches and claw marks on her ear and back, Connors said. Her name and address weren't released.
"Last night she was traumatized, obviously, and wasn't able to say much while she was in the hospital, but our youth officer did a follow-up interview with her," he said. "She seems to be a very brave young lady."
Police spotted one of the coyotes a few minutes later in the same neighborhood, and an officer chased the animal onto the grounds of a nearby golf course. The officer took aim and fired at the coyote, but police don't believe the shot found its mark. Officers searched the area — aided by thermal imaging cameras, infrared equipment and high-intensity lighting from mobile units — but weren't able to track the animal down.
Friday's incident was the second high-profile coyote attack in recent months. On March 31, a coyote attacked and killed a miniature poodle pet that belonged to a resident of the Osborn Retirement Community. The coyote snapped the small dog's neck, prompting police to retain the services of a full-time trapper. The trapper has helped authorities in Rye and neighboring towns — like Port Chester, which has also had coyote sightings — set the traps in strategic areas.
Judith Steers, whose poodle Cleopatra was killed in the attack, said she arrived home at the retirement community Saturday afternoon to find a recorded message from police on her answering machine.
In discussions with friends and family, she has worried that future attacks could target children, and Friday's incident saw that fear realized.
"I said, you know, when they get used to people, the next thing is going to be a child," she said. "I keep my eyes open all the time, because very often I'm walking from one house to the other at night."
Experts say coyotes rarely attack humans, but Greenburgh saw a coyote-human attack in January when a hiker was set upon in Travis Hill Park.
The attacks and uptick in sightings are a clear sign that expanding developments and increased human presence are infringing on the animals' habitat. Connors said coyotes are becoming more brazen, and noted one case where a coyote was spotted "walking down the center line of Boston Post Road, near Playland Parkway," one of Rye's busiest and most heavily-trafficked areas.
It's unusual behavior for an animal not usually known for aggressiveness.
"They are timid. They will attack a small dog, and as we've seen in this case, possibly a small child. Generally, they won't go after anything that's bigger than they are, and they usually weigh about 35 lbs," Connors said. "The general wisdom is to act aggressively, to make noise...if the person flees, the coyote gets a sense of fear and will pursue. They're very territorial."
Steers agrees, saying she was able to finally scare the coyote off — and retrieve the body of her dog — when she rang a cowbell and pointed a flash light at the animal.
"I don't know what we can do because there's no predator," above the coyote in the local food chain, she said.
Compounding the problem for police is the fact that action against potentially dangerous animals must be weighed against the safety of people in surrounding neighborhoods — traps must be set in areas where they aren't likely to spring on pedestrians, children and small pets, and officers are severely limited in situations where they might otherwise fire shots at aggressive animals.
But Connors said Friday's attack has made it clear "we need to be more aggressive." Authorities will work with trappers and animal experts to capture and relocate potentially dangerous animals, and more traps will be set up around town.
"The equation has changed. Traditionally, we would shoot an animal only if it's acting aggressive or sick," he said. "This has changed that equation, and we will take action against one of these animals if we can do so safely."