In some ways, coyotes are appealing. They croon in West Virginia's hills at night as "song dogs." They look like long-legged, bushy-tailed, yellow-eyed dogs, or jackals. Pairs tend their pups faithfully and often remain devoted couples for life.
But they are ruthless killers, ripping apart any animal small enough for them to overpower. In packs, they can slaughter full-size deer. They wreak havoc among lambs and baby goats at rural farms. They kill dogs and cats outside suburban homes. Occasionally, they even attack a human baby on a blanket in a backyard. They're killing machines, in the manner of sharks.
Unlike larger timber wolves, who retreat into deep northern forests, coyotes have multiplied immensely across America and spread into urban zones, where they scavenge in trashcans and show no fear of people.
Both state and federal agencies use traps and poison to reduce the coyote plague -- and some communities hold mass coyote hunts with cash rewards for successful hunters -- but coyote numbers keep growing. Biologists say coyotes have an uncanny ability to produce bigger litters when they're threatened with extermination. West Virginia declares them a predator, providing a year-round open season when they may be shot and killed.
Debbie Cobb of Charleston's South Hills was horrified one day when two coyotes killed her beloved old cat just outside her front door. Ever since, she and her husband have crusaded for suppression of the marauders. But she says Charleston officials do little to help.
Cobb is an animal-lover who feeds feral cats in her neighborhood. Mayor Danny Jones says she should stop, because feeding draws coyotes to kill the cats and eat the cat food.
America's Humane Society says it's pointless and cruel to try to wipe out coyotes, which are here to stay. Instead, it says, people should keep their pets indoors and eliminate outdoor food that draws the scavengers.
We don't know whether the current Legislature can take any further steps to curtail the coyote menace, but lawmakers should search for possible cures.