WESTBOROUGH — On Monday, November 20, 2017, a coyote attacked 2 people in North Attleboro while police were responding to calls about a coyote acting oddly. The North Attleboro police killed the coyote and sent it to the Department of Public Health (DPH) for rabies testing. Today, DPH test results confirmed the coyote was rabid. MassWildlife would like to remind the public to report any unusual animal behavior to local authorities and to take specific actions which reduces contact with coyotes.

Attacks by coyotes on people are a rare and unusual event. The North Attleboro attacks are the eighth and ninth documented attacks on people by coyotes since the 1950’s. Of the seven prior attacks, two coyotes were confirmed as rabid and three others were suspected as rabid, but the animals could not be captured for testing. The last coyote attack on a person was in the town of Kingston in 2015.

Rabies is a very serious disease affecting the nervous system of mammals, including cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and people. Rabies is caused by a virus and is almost always fatal. The virus found in saliva is usually spread from animal to animal or to people through bites. People who have been bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal should contact their health care provider. In most cases, immediate treatment for rabies exposure is necessary. If a pet has been attacked, owners should contact their veterinarian for advice.

MassWildlife urges the public to report any observations of wild or domestic mammals displaying symptoms of this fatal disease to local animal control officers. There are two kinds of symptoms, the “furious form” and the “dumb form”. Furious form symptoms include aggressive attacks on people or other animals, or random biting of objects. Dumb form symptoms are exhibited by animals acting sick, dazed, or paralyzed.

Rabies in coyotes is relatively uncommon. Since 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has tested 14 coyotes for rabies. Cumulative reports from the DPH summarizing rabies testing from 1992-2002 and annual reports from 2003 to 2016 are available on the DPH website and can be found at www.mass.gov/dph/rabies.

Coyotes live in rural, suburban, and urban areas throughout Massachusetts except for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Coyotes thrive where people live because there is a lot of food available–including garbage, fruit trees, bird seed, and suet. Small pets as well as wildlife attracted to birdfeeders are also a potential meal for coyotes. Coyote attacks on pets are not unusual; loose pets are at risk of attack by coyotes or other wildlife. Cats and small dogs are viewed as a potential meal for coyotes, while larger dogs, especially when off-leash, may be viewed by coyotes as a threat.

To prevent contact with coyotes, MassWildlife recommends the following actions:
Remove All Types of Food: Coyotes eat bird seed, suet, and the small wildlife attracted to feeders. They also raid garbage and compost piles. Secure garbage in plastic containers with tight fitting lids and keep them secure. Take out trash when the morning pick up is scheduled, not the previous night. Remove bird feeders.
Stay Outside With Your Pet: Pet owners should be present outside with their pets at all times and keep them under control, preferably on a leash. Unsupervised pets left outdoors are at risk of attack by coyotes or other animals. The presence of a human generally discourages coyotes.
For more tips on avoiding problems with coyotes, see MassWildlife’s Living With Coyotes Fact Sheet.