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ST. LOUIS – The Humane Society of Missouri and Missouri Department of Conservation are warning pet owners about coyote attacks on small dogs in the St. Louis area.

Coyotes are common in Missouri, even in urban areas. Coyote breeding season is approaching, and attacks on small animals may become more common. The attacks are usually fatal.

HSMO offers these tips for pet owners:

- Pets should be supervised when outside between dusk and dawn.

- If pets must be outside, make sure your yard fence is at least 6' tall and 6" deep to ensure coyotes cannot jump over it or dig under it.

- Trash cans should be secure and taken to the curb as close to pickup time as possible.

- Pet food should not be left outside. Do not feed coyotes or other wildlife.

- Breeding season is from January through March, and pup season is from March until May. Coyotes may attack large dogs if they feel they or their pups are threatened.

- Dogs should be kept on a leash when on walks.

- If you spot a coyote, wave your arms, clap, and shout to scare it away. It is important to make yourself seem as large as possible.

- Pets should be current on rabies and distemper shots.

Coyotes are reddish or grayish brown with a whitish belly and throat. They have black-tipped tails, large pointed ears, and small pointed muzzles. In Missouri they are usually around 23-25" tall and weigh 25 to 35 pounds.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says at least six dogs are dead or missing in north St. Louis County and Ladue.

Former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth called the coyote attack in Ladue that claimed the life of his beloved Lexie an "emotional jolt." On Saturday, Danforth's 9-year-old dog used the doggie door to go to the backyard. When the dog didn't return, Danforth made a grisly discovery.

"We went running around the house looking for it. And I went outside," said Danforth. "She was lying in the snow dead and it was eviscerated. I mean there was nothing left."

Danforth and several other Ladue families met with the Missouri Department of Conversation Thursday, all with similar stories of pets attacked by coyotes.

"There were four of us who lost pets within about a mile," said Danforth.

Tom Meister, a wildlife damage biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, says there's an explanation for the deadly coyote behavior.

"Right now it's coyote breeding season and so those coyotes are out there establishing their territory," said Meister. "They see these dogs not so much as food but as a threat to their territory. The typical coyote behavior is to kill the animal. They're not eating them because of food, but because of territory."

Meister said he's learned of at least six local incidents where dogs were attacked and killed, or are missing. His advice: limit the coyote food supply by securing garbage cans, and not leaving cat food or dog food outside at night.

"First of all, not feeding them," said Meister. "Second of all, if they are being seen, make lots of noise, pots and pans, throw rocks at them, spray them with a hose. Whatever you can do to persuade them to leave your yard."

Call the HSMO Animal Cruelty Hotline at 314-647-4400 if you have a pet emergency.

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