After loss of dog to coyote, Hadley couple spreads word on dangers

Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2014
HADLEY — Hershey loved being outdoors, especially in the large Middle Street yard and garden where she could chase critters around.

But a recent foray outside her home ended in tragedy for the miniature dachshund when she was critically wounded, likely by a coyote that attacked her.

The death of the 6½-year-old dog owned by Cathleen Robinson and Raymond Brown is still difficult to comprehend for the retired teachers. Less than three weeks after losing one of their canine companions, the couple sat for an interview with the Gazette as a way of putting out warnings to other pet owners in their neighborhood about coyotes.

“We miss her so much,” said Robinson, whose eyes fill with tears as she recounts the loss of Hershey. “She was a very hugging dog, a very loyal dog.”

The couple is still reliving the painful evening of July 2, when wet weather caused them to send Hershey and Mia, also a miniature dachshund who is 4 years old, outside later than usual.

“That day it had rained and for some reason my dogs don’t do rain,” Robinson said.

It was around 9 p.m. that both dogs left the home. With floodlights lighting up the backyard and the dogs wearing collars to prevent them from venturing beyond an electric fence, Robinson and Brown were confident they would be safe.

Hershey was tracking, something she had done with the squirrels, rabbits, skunks and groundhogs. This playfulness was a part of her personality that was also indicated in how she interacted with both animals and people, from whom she would enjoy tummy rubs.

“Hershey was not afraid of anything. She would have been willing to be petted at all times,” Robinson said.

But what she described as “scream barking” coming from Mia alerted Robinson that something was amiss. She said the bark was an unusual sound from the mild-mannered dog who Robinson said is “afraid of her own shadow.” The couple soon realized a tragedy was unfolding.

“I said to my husband, ‘Something bad happened,’” Robinson said.

And it had. Hershey, clinging to life, came into the home through the doggy door, but her entire back side had been ripped open. She was bleeding profusely, her organs dangling from her body, Robinson said. The rugs, hardwood floors and chairs were covered by blood as Hershey sought comfort from Robinson.

Remarkably, Hershey still had enough energy to jump onto the couch, and Robinson started to wrap her and cradle her, though Hershey got aggressive.

“She bit me on the hand and she bit my husband, too,” Robinson said.

Robinson and Brown got into a vehicle and, while backing out of their driveway, saw a coyote run behind the garage. They rushed Hershey to the Veterinary Emergency and Speciality Hospital in South Deerfield, where, due to the severity of her injuries and her eyes beginning to glaze over, they made the call to not try to save Hershey.

“I instantly said she’s suffered enough,” Robinson said.

She said she feels fortunate that she got to say her final goodbyes to the pet, speculating that because Hershey was wearing a collar for the invisible fence that the attacking animal was shocked and let the dog loose. “The coyote would have got zapped, too,” Brown said.

“We’re saying it was a coyote and that it was the electric fence that made the coyote drop Hershey,” Robinson said.

Dr. Erika Mueller, owner of the South Deerfield veterinary hospital, said coyote attacks on pets she sees are rare, with more frequent confirmed cases of attacks by bears and fisher cats.

“The biggest problem is we don’t know what injured most of them,” Mueller said.

As a board-certified emergency critical care specialist, Mueller said Hershey’s injuries were severe, with many of her internal organs damaged.

Hadley Police Officer Mitchell Kuc, who acts as the dog officer for the town, said reports of coyotes are not unusual.

“We do get a lot of calls about coyotes between East Street and Middle Street,” Kuc said.

But even though the calls come in, he said, few residents report pets missing or killed as a result.

“If you’re letting your dogs out at night, you should supervise them, especially in the area where coyotes are seen,” Kuc said.

Marion Larson, chief of information and education for the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said in an email that owners of small dogs, in particular, should be outside with them because these dogs will be seen as potential meals for coyotes. Coyotes are also unlikely to attack humans, with just five documented attacks in Massachusetts in 50 years.

“The physical presence of a human being in the yard is a powerful deterrent,” Larson said.

Mueller said being cognizant of the area around a home is important. “Always know your environment and remember that the wild is right around the corner,” Mueller said,

Robinson and Brown said they became aware two years ago in the fall that coyotes might be present, but never had seen any danger until now.

“We went around to tell people that some critter has been injuring pets,” Brown said.

Brown said when he took Mia for a walk the other day, the sounds of howling and strange barking filled the night air.

“I’d never heard it before,” Brown said.

Larson said the state doesn’t have population figures for coyotes, but they are considered to be common.

“Unsupervised pets, particularly small dogs and cats, are more at risk for attacks by coyotes,” Larson said. (They also are at risk by attack from other loose pets and collisions with the ever-present automobile.)

The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs provides information about conflicts with eastern coyotes, noting that they are well established everywhere in the state and thrive in suburban and urban areas close to people.

The web page is at http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/fish-wildlife-plants/mammals/preventing-conflicts-with-coyotes.html

“The bottom line is that if people take appropriate preventive actions and work to keep coyotes wary of people, there will be less conflict between coyotes, people and pets,” Larson said.

Though Robinson and Brown still have Mia, the death of Hershey and the suffering she went through is painful for them.

“It’s a different kind of grief than losing a beloved person in the family,” Robinson said. “But she was hard to lose.”