Darien police are warning residents for a second time this spring to be on guard against coyotes on the prowl after an increased frequency of sightings in town has raised concerns about possible attacks on dogs and other pets.

The warning comes about two months after a bichon frise, a small breed of dog, was attacked and killed at a home off of Norwood Lane in a mauling that police suspected was the work of a coyote.

Since March, Darien Animal Control has logged 16 reported coyote sightings, with the wild dogs lurking near residences, Animal Control Officer Chip Stahl said.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare, so the greater concern is the animals attacking and killing dogs, particularly smaller ones; cats, or other pets, Stahl said.

This is the time of year when coyotes get more aggressive, as females whelp their young and have revved up territorial instincts, Stahl said.

To protect your pet, don't let your dog or cat roam free; and walk your dog on a leash, particularly between dusk and the next morning when the coyotes are most active, Stahl said.

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"When they are having their puppies, you see that aggression mainly toward other canines because they are kind of defending their territory," Stahl said.

Residents should never feed coyotes and should actively harass them when they are seen by making loud noises, throwing sticks, or spraying them with hoses to hopefully repel them out of the neighborhood, according to police.

In his experience, Stahl said, Fairfield County's heavy population has curbed coyotes from daytime activity.

"If it wasn't for us being here, they'd be out having a mid-day siesta on the lawn and be out hunting," Stahl said. "We've just sort of forced them to be nocturnal."

The variation in the level of coyote aggressiveness from spring to spring is correlated to how aggressive the alpha male and female in each pack are, Stahl said. Interestingly, when coyotes attack dogs, they typically don't eat them even if they kill smaller creatures like rabbits, moles, and mice to feed their brood, Stahl said.

"They won't attack to eat them, but only attack to kill (dogs)," Stahl said.

According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, coyotes began being a significant presence in the state in the 1950s as they began to expand their range eastward from their original habitats in the western plains and midwestern United States. The coyote has adapted to human-disturbed environments and can thrive close to populated areas, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

While sightings should be reported to the town's animal control division, whether any action is taken would depend on whether the reported behavior is threatening, such as charging or barking at humans, Stahl said.

State regulated hunting and trapping can be used to remove the animals if they are causing a concern in a particular area, Stahl said.

"I would have to evaluate what is a danger versus it being a perceived danger," Stahl said. "Is the coyote acting aggressively? In most cases, the female isn't going to give birth close to people unless she is sure there isn't going to be any conflict."

Coyote sightings in Darien can be reported to Darien Animal Control at 203-662-5345 or to the DEEP Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011.