Wednesday, September 06, 2017
By James Lomuscio
A petition for an ordinance to allow trapping coyotes and coyote-wolf hybrids in Westport was defeated at the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) early today by a vote of 29 to 2 with one abstention.
The 12:45 a.m. vote came after almost four hours of debate that pitted those fearful of the predators for the safety of their children and pets against animal welfare activists.
The latter objected to what they called the cruelty of leg-hold traps, despite trapping and removal proponents’ assurances the traps would be rubber padded and regularly checked.
At issue was an amendment brought forth by lead petitioner Art Buckman to change the town’s Code of Ordinances to permit the trapping and removal of problem coyotes. Westport is the only one of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities that does not allow hunting and trapping.
The petition came about after Peter Mackey of 7 Charcoal Hill Road said his dog was killed by a coyote in January.
Mackey said he never “anticipated the degree of acrimony” he had received from those who opposed the amendment, calling him “a liar and an irresponsible pet owner.”
He also said that the Humane Society of the United States, which had been vocal against the amendment, was “using it as a firewall.”
“Vote your conscience,” he instructed the RTM. “I just hope that when this coyote comes back to our property, he does not do more damage.”
Mackey and Buckman were in the minority as dozens of members of the public spoke against leg-hold traps, some even implying that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), which issues permits to trappers, was using the proposed coyote amendment to undermine the town’s antihunting and antitrapping ordinance in place since the 1930s.
“I’m angry and disappointed,” resident Susan Pike said about the amendment. “Personal responsibility would have avoided this issue.”
She added that leg-hold traps are inhumane and do not discriminate against other animals and pets. Pike accused DEEP, which sells hunting licenses and trapping permits of “exploiting this issue.’
“Leg-hold traps are brutal,” said Ellen Linker of Otter Trail, who worries about her grandchildren being hurt by one.
Resident Gloria Ginter agreed leg-hold traps are cruel, noting that “100 countries have banned them.”
Amy Buckman countered, “What about the pain and agony those dogs felt when they were attacked?”
“It’s definitely easy when it’s not something that directly affects you,” she said. “The coyotes are out during the day, stalking. My children are now afraid to play outside in our backyard.”
Richard Lowenstein, a former RTM member, called the coyote problem, for which the Westport Police Department has had 40 calls since January, according to Deputy Chief Vincent Penna, a case “of unintended consequences” since the RTM did not act to limit the deer population four years ago. Coyotes follow deer, which are their common prey.
“With more deer, you have more coyotes,” Lowenstein said. “Does this RTM want to have unintended consequences with (attacks on) people?”
He urged the RTM to approve the amendment with a two-year limit and to revisit it to see if it were effective.
Melissa Shapiro, a veterinarian and 24-year-town resident who spoke carrying her small white dog, argued that leg-hold traps do not discriminate.
“It has no place in Westport,” she said.
Barbara Murray, a nurse, who resides in the Coleytown area, appeared at the podium, holding her 7-year-old bichon frise named Calvin Klein.
“We have been confronted three times by a coyote,” she said, adding that she carries a stick and a whistle. “If you’ve never experienced it, you should know it’s very frightening. Do you have to wait for a child to be injured?”
She added: “I’m in favor of trapping but only when a coyote shows repeated aggressiveness.”
She said most of the coyote sightings have been in the Coleytown area, home of Coleytown Middle and Coleytown Elementary schools.
Steve Barnes, who lives in that neighborhood, said his son “had an encounter with a coyote walking home from the bus,” and that he luckily out ran the coyote to his door.
Still others, such as a representative from the Humane Society, called leg-hold traps “cruelty masquerading as a solution.”
“We have to learn how to coexist,” she said.
When it came time for the RTM vote, a number of representatives stood firm against changing the ordinance. An effort by RTMer Catherine Calise to refer the matter to committee was easily defeated.
At the same time, members thanked Buckman for bringing the issue to light.
They said it was an issue that would need greater public education and due diligence, as well as increased efforts by the Police Department and the town’s animal control officer.
Posted 09/06/17 at 02:42 AM Permalink