SUN CITY, AZ - Sue and John Austinson have lived in Sun City since 1996, and coyotes have been a constant worry for them.
"They've been around all that time," Sue said. "They come through the neighborhood and howl. And they're braver than they used to be."
Representatives from the Arizona Game & Fish Department have said it is the responsibility of residents to scare away wildlife when it encroaches on neighborhoods, and Sue said she took that responsibility seriously.
"I got one of those air horns from PetSmart, and whenever I saw a coyote, I would use it," she said. "The thing is, you use the air horn to scare the one coyote you do see, and next thing you know, four or five more come out of the bushes to join it. They don't run away, either. They just walk. It's scary."
The Austinsons knew they had to be diligent in protecting their 7-pound Papillion, Macho, and they always were. But on the morning of Feb. 19, the worst happened.
"My husband made a scrambled egg for Macho, and he wanted to go outside, so they went outside," she said. "They came back in to eat breakfast, and he wanted to go out again. After a while, my husband wondered why he didn't want to come back inside. He went out to get him, and Macho was dead."
John brought the dog inside, and when he went back out, the coyote was there.
"You can't imagine what it feels like when something like this happens," John said. "To see Macho the way he was and then to have the coyote come back. This thing was walking on top of the fence and glaring at me. He came back to get Macho."
Sue said several of her neighbors in the area northeast off 99th Avenue and Bell Road have had run-ins with coyotes, too. As for why the coyote problem seems to be growing, Sue said she agrees with Randy Babb, information and education program manager for the Arizona Game & Fish Department.
"I think it's very possible someone is feeding them," she said. "They're just not afraid."
The couple said they are going to do their best to protect their new dog.
"I think we've decided on squirt guns with ammonia," Sue said. "The first thought I had was rat poison, but then, you know, I thought I'm going to end up killing bunnies or maybe someone else's dog. And I would never want to hurt another animal. It wouldn't be right, even if at the time, boy, it really seems like a good idea."
The Austinsons said they were compelled to share their story after the string of coyote attacks last week in the Trilogy neighborhood in north Peoria. Sue said they're doing their best to come to terms with what happened.
"It was very hard on us, but we're coming out of it now," she said. "We have a new dog, a golden retriever-yellow Labrador mix named Molly."
Sue said they know they can never get Macho back, but she said she hopes sharing their story will encourage other pet owners to be vigilant, especially if that pet is small.
"If you have a small dog, you need to be out there with them constantly when they're outside," Sue said. "And we always were. It was just that one time."
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