Midnight sauntered into the lives of the Phillips family and, in the way cats often do, picked a favorite human, 9-year-old Alexsis.

“The cat bonded to her instantly, slept with her, everything,” said Alexsis’ mother, Chris Phillips.

“She was like a really good friend, smart, unique, lovey,” Alexsis said.

But a friendship that began organically, when a friend found the stray at Walmart and gave it to the family, ended violently.

On March 4, a coyote killed the 2-year-old black cat in a neighbor’s yard along Hathaway Drive in the Cimarron Hills area. It’s an older, established neighborhood just east of Powers Boulevard. Chris Phillips said that had she known coyotes were around, Midnight would not have been allowed to roam, even during the day.

“We’ve never seen a coyote, ever. We’ve had foxes in the neighborhood, skunks, but never a coyote,” she said.

Many hearts have been similarly broken in the Pikes Peak region over the years, as urban development has pushed into animal habitat. Incidents involving predators such as coyotes and mountain lions have increased in recent months, perhaps because drought has reduced the availability of natural prey.

No matter where you live in the urban jungle of Colorado Springs, something could be looking to make a snack out of your beloved pet.

Cats

Domestic cats rank pretty low on the Colorado food chain, and there is only one guaranteed way to keep them safe from larger predators.

“The No. 1 most effective measure to protect cats is to keep them indoors,” said Michael Seraphin, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Cats that are allowed to roam free are at risk from a myriad of threats.”

Ask anyone who has owned a cat accustomed to going outside, and they’ll tell you that’s easier said than done.

Midnight spent nights indoors at the Phillips’ house, but the cat would cry and scratch and dart out at the first opportunity. She seemed to get along with other neighborhood cats and dogs, and was popular with neighbors, who also fed her. So Chris Phillips let the cat roam.

The day Midnight was killed, she was in Bernice Delaney’s yard across the street. What she initially thought was two dogs playing turned out to be a coyote with the cat pinned to the ground, teeth on its neck and shaking it. The coyote dragged the cat down the street, where the Phillips family later found the body.

Delaney said the coyote looked sick and mangy, and now she is worried about letting her dog outside.

“I always thought animal attacks were a thing of the western foothills,” she said. “But they’re here and they’re in the neighborhood. So every time I let the dog out it’s like, ‘Are you coming back?’”

Dogs

Someone once told Darlene Cramm that if deer are around, so are coyotes.

She saw deer in her front yard, near Rangewood Drive and Austin Bluffs Parkway, for the first time on the day Max was mauled.

A medium-size terrier, the old dog went outside to relieve himself, and Cramm always figured the underground electric fence was enough to keep him safe. But one night seven years ago, Max didn’t come home and they found him in a nearby gully, still alive but with 18 bite wounds. The 17-year-old had put up a fight, but the injuries were fatal.

“It was horrible,” Cramm said. “He was just part of the family. We picked him from the Humane Society as a little puppy. He was raised with our boys. You just don’t put your pets out there thinking they’re going to be bait for an animal.”

They have two more dogs, and now when they have to go out at night, someone stands at the back door and watches to ensure they come right back in.

No statistics on attacks

No safety measures are foolproof, as one dog owner learned recently.

A mountain lion snatched a Dachshund on a leash March 14, while its owner was just a few feet away, in a gated community off Star Ranch Road in the foothills of southwest Colorado Springs.

Seraphin said the lion was emboldened and unafraid of humans, killing deer in peoples’ yards, and efforts to “haze” the big male with a bean bag gun did not drive it off. So officials deemed it a “threat to public safety” and euthanized it.

Such a response is rare in pet attacks.

Neither the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region nor Parks and Wildlife tracks pet attacks, and most go unconfirmed because a pet simply disappears. The onus is on owners to keep their pets safe from wildlife.

When Chris Phillips called these agencies after Midnight was killed, she was told that officials respond only if a human is bitten. So her husband, Ryan Phillips, got his gun, to put the apparently sick animal out of its misery and prevent another attack.

Rules vary among jurisdictions, and it’s illegal to discharge a firearm in the city of Colorado Springs. But they are outside the city limits, and Ryan Phillips said he found the coyote but couldn’t get a shot without a house in the background.

They haven’t seen the animal since and are frustrated officials won’t get involved.

“It’s like, ‘We’re not going to do anything unless it actually hurts somebody,’ and I’m very disappointed about that,” Chris Phillips said.

Alexsis, who hasn’t gotten over losing her cat, has mixed feelings about the coyote.

“I feel bad for it because I don’t want it to die, but I want it to die because it killed my cat,” she said.

*Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March of 2013 by The Gazette

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