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MERRIMACK, NH - There have been several coyote sightings in town in the past month, with at least one resident having a face-to-face encounter with the elusive animal earlier this week.
"People have been seeing a coyote around, especially in the Merrimack Meadows area," said Capt. Peter Albert of the Merrimack police.
He said police have received at least four reports of a coyote spotted around Chapel Lane, Hilton Drive and Depot Street, near the Daniel Webster Highway.
This week, a woman was shoveling snow in the parking lot at Merrimack Meadows condominium complex when she saw a coyote several feet away from her, Albert said. The animal chased the woman up to her door, but she was able to safely escape inside, he said.
"It wasn't right on her heels, but she did get nervous and it did actually run after her," Albert said of the coyote.
The coyote has been seen rummaging for food in trash barrels and dumpsters, police said. Authorities have issued a warning to local neighborhood watch groups to be on the lookout for the animal, but to not approach the coyote.
"They are a wild dog, and people should be cautious," Albert said, asking parents to educate their children about the dangers of coyote, especially if the children are playing in the snow in the evening.
The town's animal control officer, Elizabeth Fraser, has unsuccessfully tried to find the coyote several times after receiving reports of the animal sightings. For now, police said there is not much they can do about the situation.
"If it becomes a nuisance or gets aggressive, we will have to put it down," Albert said, reminding residents not to feed the animal.
In addition, police said coyotes are attracted to bird food and bread crumbs left on snow for birds. He encourages people to put bird food in feeders, not leave it on the ground where a coyote could get at it.
Jesse Fraser of Critter Control in Merrimack said he hears a lot of tall tales about coyote and fox attacks in New Hampshire, but stressed that animals are typically afraid of humans -- even coyotes.
"Coyotes are scavengers," he said, explaining that the heavy snow may be preventing the intelligent animals from finding their typical feed, which includes mice, moles, insects and squirrels.
Coyotes are more elusive than fox, according to Fraser, who said that this time of year the animals aren't likely to be infected with rabies. Still, he warned that coyotes will attack house cats if they are hungry and within range.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department recommends that pets and pet food remain inside at night to reduce the likelihood that a family cat will become a coyote's prey, according to its website.
"As for your safety, coyote pose little risk to people. In New Hampshire, there has never been a report of a coyote attacking a person," states the website.
Credits: By Kimberly Houghton, UnionLeader.com