Westport remains only town in Connecticut to ban leg traps
Updated 2:18 pm, Friday, September 8, 2017
WESTPORT — Westport remains the only town in the state with a coyote trapping ban after a marathon five-hour RTM meeting where members ultimately voted down the petition.
Dozens of RTM members, residents and animal rights activists attended the meeting and shared their thoughts on the lifting of the ban. Emotions ran high, particularly as members of the community shared their encounters with coyotes. Some even brought their small dogs to the podiums to drive home a point about who might be affected by trapping.
Amy Buckman, a Coleytown resident, said she has started carrying a baseball bat when she takes her dogs out to protect herself should she encounter a coyote.
“In the Coleytown area, it’s been a very big issue,” she said. “The coyotes, usually nocturnal, are out during the day. They’re stalking our pets. They’re out in the neighborhood during the day. My children are afraid to walk our dogs. My children are afraid to play outside at dusk. There’s a lot of talk about personal responsibility, but I find that insulting to a lot of people in the room. There’s a lot of conversation about the pain and agony coyotes feel when they’re trapped, but what about the pain and agony dogs feel when attacked by coyotes?”
Many residents of the Coleytown area, in particular, spoke at the meeting due to the high number of coyotes spotted in the neighborhood. However, not all were in favor of the ban. Lisa Didonato, a Coleytown resident with three small dogs and children, said she’s taken measures to live alongside the coyotes, including watching her dogs when they’re outside, installing an invisible fence and carrying horns and whistles to scare the coyotes away.
“I wanted to represent the person who has dogs, has kids and is against the leg hold trap,” she said. “My kids were up waiting to hear if it was going to be passed because they were so scared to hear there were traps allowed in their towns.”
The trapping ban was originally instituted in 1933 to protect children and pets from getting caught in traps. Arthur Buckman, the lead petitioner, proposed the lifting of the ban after many in his neighborhood began fearing for their children and their pets in wake of a more-present coyote population. According to Huckman, there have been 28 coyote incidents since March.
“We are not trying to wipe out the coyote population, nor do we want to see them die,” Huckman said. “They have their place in the environment, and if this passes, we will not be having trapping throughout the town.”
The petition proposed allowing homeowners to get a permit for trapping if it met DEEP standards in order to target nuisance coyotes. Homeowners would have to hire a licensed nuisance wildlife control operator to trap and remove the animal. Town officials would be able to do the same to remove a nuisance coyote from a private or public property. Trap notifications would have to be issued in the paper and on public property at least seven days before the trap is set.
However, the RTM Public Protection, Environmental and Parks and Recreation committees felt public education campaigns and working with police could help manage the town’s coyote problem without the risks that come with trapping. (Police and animal control map coyotes in town based on the calls they receive.)
Westporters against the ban expressed concerns about traps injuring pets, children and other wildlife. The RTM committees studying the subject said other area animal control officers and research said trapping does not actually help reduce nuisance pet populations.
The issue caused tensions to run high from both sides, perhaps for no one more than resident Peter Mackey. The death of Mackey’s dog, Murphy, from a coyote attack in January was what sparked the debate in town.
“I never thought his death and horrific killing would become so noticeable and visible,” Mackey said. “I’m proud of the fact it stimulated this conversation. I’ve been on the soft side, being an irresponsible pet owner. I’ve been called a liar, been accused of making up the fact it was a coyote that killed our dog. I’ve also been accused, on the Trump-ian scale of things, of tearing out my dogs’ vocal cords so that he couldn’t bark. I’ve been really disturbed by the attitude when I saw this as a responsible issue.”
After hearing both sides and turning down a proposal to form a subcommittee to look into the issue further, the RTM voted down the proposal, with only two in favor of upholding the ban.