PEPPERELL -- It started out as just an average day on the job for Rebecca Trudel and her pack of canines on a bright January morning three weeks ago. Little did they know the turn it would take.
At 10 a.m., with seven or eight dogs in tow, Trudel headed out to the Pepperell Skydive Airport. A dog walker by profession, Trudel has been using the property to exercise her pack for the past three years.
The private property is close to her home in Nashua, N.H., and is wide and open, allowing for maximum visibility. In addition, with her bad knees and back, Trudel has trouble walking through deep snow; owner Don Mayer plows the runway in the winter for the several dog walkers that come to utilize the area.
With the sun shining across the sprawling property and her dogs bounding and sniffing happily around her, said Trudel, everything was perfect.
Until it wasn't.
Jill, a nine-pound Jack Russell terrier, one of Trudel's own dogs, had meandered over to the side of the runway, sniffing around a nearby thicket. She was only 15 feet away.
"All of a sudden, I heard a cry," said Trudel.
As she whipped her head toward the noise, she saw the telltale auburn fur of a coyote, who had brazenly grabbed Jill by the back.
The pack of dogs, hearing Jill's distress call, ran into the thicket. The coyote had dropped her, but snatched her up again, this time by the throat.
"This was the kill bite," said Trudel. "But by then, my pack had gotten to her."
Startled by the rapid approach of the other dogs, the coyote dropped Jill and bolted.
The whole encounter lasted about three minutes.
Hurrying to her dog, Trudel gently picked her up and rushed her to the vet.
"I was terrified," said Trudel.
After shaving her down, the damage was visible: Jill's back was torn with bite marks. She was rushed into surgery.
"I dropped her off at 10:40 (a.m.) and couldn't pick her up until 4:30 that night," said Trudel.
Jill needed a rabies shot and a drain for the swelling on her spine.
"I can't tell you how many stitches she had," said Trudel. "I'm lucky to have her."
Due to the bacteria in the coyote's mouth, Jill developed an infection and had to go on strong antibiotics.
But three weeks later, said Trudel, she's finally starting to seem like herself again.
"I took her to the vet yesterday to have a checkup. (The vet) said how lucky she was to have even survived," said Trudel.
But even now, the scars are visible.
"It still shows all the teeth marks on her back from the coyote," said Mayer.
In the 15 years she's been walking dogs, said Trudel, she's seen a variety of wildlife, including a bear and moose, but she has never had such an encounter.
"Coyotes have been around us all the time but we've never been attacked," said Trudel.
This is not the first time Mayer has heard of coyotes on his property. Other dog walkers have reported coyotes lurking on the hills surrounding the property. Although he has been there for 21 years, reports of coyote sightings on the property have boomed over the last four years. But this is the first time he's heard of an attack at the peak of the morning.
"We try to make everybody aware of it that tries to come walk their dogs," said Mayer.
Although coyote attacks aren't as well heard of midmorning -- they're most active at dawn and dusk -- they have been known to come out any time of day in search of food.
"(Coyotes are) opportunistic. When they're hungry, they'll look for food. If it's available and they have the opportunity to take it, they generally will," said Laura Conlee, fur bearer and Blackbear Project leader at the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Coyotes live in every mainland town in Massachusetts and the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife estimate that there are up to 10,000 in the state during the summer months. Although there has been some question as to whether development has affected the coyote's ability to find food, Conlee said they are highly adaptable and often do well in urban and suburban areas.
"A lot of times, it's often easier for them to find food in residential areas. Within backyard settings, there are lot of times trash, bird feeders, landscaping for rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels to live in the backyard," she said.
Unfortunately for small dogs and cats, they are similarly sized to the coyotes' natural prey, and the four-legged hunters don't care to make the distinction.
Conlee has some tips for pet owners to keep their animals safe.
The best thing a pet owner can do is to keep their pets under close supervision and on a leash when outside. If you see or hear coyotes nearby, make loud noises to startle them. Conlee said you can throw things, like sticks, at the animal to deter it from coming closer.
Bird feeders, garbage and compost can attract coyotes; large brush piles can provide places for their prey to live, and if large enough, for coyotes to den in as well.
If your pet is attacked, try to wear gloves if you can to protect yourself and your pet. The next step is to rush it to the vet.
From there, the vet will decide the necessary precautions.