Roger Nelson and Snoopy, a 5-year-old beagle/basset hound mix.BOB UPHUES/Staff

Snoopy just made it.

The slowest of Roger Nelson’s three dogs, Snoopy, a 5-year-old beagle/basset hound mix, narrowly escaped four coyotes Nelson says charged his pets while they were out in the fenced backyard at the corner of Lawton and South Herbert roads at 1:20 a.m. on Jan. 25.

The other dogs — Lexie, a 10-year-old golden retriever, and Bella, a 3-month-old German shepherd pup — made it up the back stairs and through the door quickly, but Snoopy, with his stubby legs, waddled up just in the nick of time.

“One more stair and they would have grabbed him,” said Nelson, who watched the action unfold as he stood at the doorway. “They jumped the fence, no issues at all, and came right up the stairs.”

Once his dogs were safe, Nelson slammed the inside door shut, but three of the four coyotes continues to jump at and paw at the screen door, breaking a pair of glass louvers in their attempt to get at the dogs. Scratch marks were clearly visible on the lower metal panel of the screen door the next morning.

Nelson said he grabbed a high-powered pellet pistol and began firing through the glass panes of the inside rear door to drive away the coyotes. He kept on firing, hitting at least two of the coyotes, which jumped down and ran off. The two others quickly followed, leaping the fence.

“It was crazy,” Nelson said.

Stanley Gehrt, an expert on coyotes from Ohio State University, said the latest Riverside incident was certainly unusual, but not unheard of.

“It’s happened periodically in the Chicago area throughout the past few years,” said Gehrt, an assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State and the lead researcher on the Cook County Coyote Project, which started in 2000.

Coyotes are just entering their mating season, which runs from January to April, making the animals particularly territorial, said Gehrt.

“When there are multiple coyotes, it’s usually territorial,” said Gehrt. “They’ve been known to attack other coyotes, foxes and dogs, which are just another canid. It’s just their natural instinct.”

Gehrt said the attack probably wasn’t the result of the coyotes foraging for food, as they do pretty well during the winter as hunters.

While Friday morning wasn’t the first time Nelson has seen coyotes hanging around the neighborhood, it’s the first time they’ve ever been so bold, he said.

“It’s been an ongoing problem for about three weeks,” said Nelson, who added that he’s seen one or sometimes two coyotes across the street or standing on the periphery of his yard.

Nelson said a neighbor had been leaving food out for animals, which may have attracted the coyotes. Police said there was evidence some nearby garbage can lids weren’t closed, which could be a source of the problem.

Gehrt said someone leaving food out could definitely be an attraction for territorial coyotes.

“Once coyotes learn a yard is an opportunity, the next thing they’re going to do is get rid of competition for the food,” Gehrt said.

In any case, said Nelson, the coyotes seemed to be content checking things out on the periphery, especially when anyone was out in the yard with the dogs.

“Usually with the presence of people, they don’t really tend to mess with anybody,” he said.

On Friday morning, the big difference is that Nelson was standing at the doorway and not out in the yard with his dogs. He used a spotlight to check the backyard before letting the dogs out and all seemed clear.

“I didn’t see anything. It seemed fine,” Nelson said. “Then I start hearing some rustling around in the back. So, I said, ‘Come on guys, let’s go inside.'”

That’s when Nelson said he saw the coyotes leap the 3-foot fence and charge toward Snoopy.

Gehrt said he’s surprised the dogs were able to make it to the door without being caught by the coyotes.

What surprised Nelson was the brazen nature of the attack. An outdoorsman who fishes often in the woods along the Des Plaines River, Nelson is used to coming into contact with coyotes.

“I go fishing all the time back here in the woods — never been bothered,” he said. “I’ve had the dogs with me — never been bothered. I had those things come within 10 feet of me; they never bother me.”

Since last week’s attack, Nelson said he’s gone outside with his dogs, keeping them in a small area near the front door.

Gehrt said that if the coyotes were bold enough to chase the dogs all the way to the back door, that’s a problem.

“It’s very strange to have them at the door,” Gehrt said. “It’s really strange and, if it’s true, I’d probably say they are candidates for removal.”

That may not be as difficult as it sounds, Gehrt said.

“For animals that are habituated and have lost their fear of people, it’s actually pretty easy,” Gehrt said. “If the pattern is going to start repeating itself, it’s something the community should be watching.”

It’s the second coyote attack reported in the past month in Riverside. A resident of the 100 block of Addison Road reported that a coyote attacked and killed his small Bichon Poo puppy in the backyard of the home on Dec. 29.

In the meantime, Gehrt said homeowners who encounter coyotes should try to scare them away and not let them feel comfortable in the territory. People can yell, wave their arms, even throw things at them, Gehrt said.

“These are things we’ve been telling people to do for years,” he said. “You can’t run away from them; it’s just feeding their chase instinct. If you leave, you’re just giving the territory over to them.”

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