Dog owners Cheryl and Steve Gearhart never worried about their two terriers being outside their Upper Township home, until their neighbor spotted a coyote behind his house.
“They don’t go out by themselves at night, “said Cheryl Gearhart. “Just with the threat of the coyote and everybody saying they go after little dogs.”
Local officials say coyote sightings in the area including one recently caught on video have dramatically increased in the past three months along with accounts of dogs and cats disappearing or being attacked.
“There’s been a very strong upsurge in the presence of these animals,” said Dr. Nick Holland of Shore Animal Control Services. "I think there’s a general upsurge over one year to the next.”
About 7 to 10 feral cats used to live outside Bill Seeger’s place.
“I haven’t seen them in probably two weeks, not a single one,” said Seeger. "I think the coyotes got them."
The township is urging pet owners to keep their animals inside, especially at night, along with pet food and water.
“The cats are easy prey for them,” said Seeger.
Coyotes have been seen in all 21 New Jersey counties and the population is at its seasonal peak right now. State Environmental officials do not have an explanation for the spike in sighting in Upper Township. Although neighboring Maurice River Township has historically had one of the region’s highest concentrations of reported coyote activity.
The Gearharts say they aren’t taking any chances with their dogs.
“These are a couple of old pups here and they’re not in fighting trim anymore so they won’t be able to defend themselves too well,” said Steve Gearhart.
Anyone who sees a coyote is being asked to call the state’s hotline right away at 877-WARN-DEP.