By Jim Sullivan
---- — PLUM ISLAND — Janice and Vincent Williams are early risers. Recently, they rose to a nightmare.
Newburyport officials have been warning residents about the presence of coyotes on Plum Island, and there have been some reports of pets going missing. But the Williams are believed to be the first to actually witness, and report, a coyote attacking their pet.
“It was between 5 and 5:15 (a.m.),” said Janice Williams. “The neighbor’s cat had come over to visit because he likes to eat Maxine’s food. So, the two cats were in the house. And when Vincent went to let them out, he turned around and shut the door, and he heard a loud noise. It was probably the steps of the coyote.”
Maxine is the Williamses’ 3-year-old black-and-white domestic medium-hair cat, and when Vincent Williams opened the door, both Maxine and the other cat, Hefty, ran past him.
“The coyote came up and onto our deck. It cut across the deck to get into the backyard,” said Janice Williams. “My husband went around the other way, to fend him off and when he came around the corner, (Hefty) had made it up the tree, Maxine had not quite made it, and she was in the mouth of the coyote.”
The coyote was the size of a 4-foot Labrador. Vincent Williams made his body as large as he could to fend off the coyote and then yelled; “Drop her!” The coyote dropped Maxine, who ran off one way. The coyote headed down Old Point Road.
“I went searching and searching for her,” said Janice Williams. “But what I did find were a lot of coyote tracks. And I know it was coyote because I was walking through a plethora of poison ivy and sea grass. Humans aren’t walking through there.”
Fifteen hours later, Maxine returned home.
“My neighbor found her walking in the middle of the street looking dazed and traumatized,” said Janice Williams.
Since Maxine made it up the stairs on her own, Janice Williams thought the damage to her might not be that severe. But a closer inspection revealed that was not the case, and she and her husband took the cat to Salisbury’s Bassler Veterinary Hospital first thing the next morning.
“She came in dehydrated, septic and in shock,” Dr. Heidi Bassler said. “On one side, there were a few punctures; on the other side, there was severe bruising. She was basically skinned alive. The skin was completely detached along the entire trunk. She had already been injured for a good day. We stabilized her, and that night, we went into surgery. One of the bites had perforated the abdomen; she was getting peritonitis. We were in surgery for a couple of hours with her. But she is in recovery. She’s come a long way.”
The Williamses took Maxine home the following day, and she has been in and out of the vet’s ever since.
“She still has her draining tubes in her side,” said Janice Williams. “The bottom of her belly is still sutured. She had a little chunk of the back of her tail missing.”
Also with a broken rib, the traumatized cat is still not eating.
“When a door opens, she gets that fearful look on her face,” she said. “(Hefty) is afraid to come into my house when he used to love to come in, because he is afraid to leave now. But (Maxine) is on the mend. She is a very, very tough cat. She sort of adopted us. She ended up on our steps one day, two years ago.”
A resident of Plum Island for the past 16 years, Williams often sees coyotes during her morning jogs.
“Honestly, there is a different poster up daily for a missing cat,” she said. “About four or five years ago, nine cats in my neighborhood all went missing.”
But she also understands that with great views and beautiful beaches comes a more wild reality on Plum Island.
“I feel sorry for both animals,” she said. “I love that on Plum Island, it’s live and let live. You can let your dogs go off-leash and the neighbors don’t complain. We have this great neighborhood of animals, and it is sad now to have to keep an animal indoors. But at the same time, I feel sorry for the coyote. We took over their land, as well. But I feel that something needs to be done. People can’t keep losing animals over this. The rabbit population here is crazy. I don’t know why they’re not eating all the rabbits; maybe cats are easier to catch.”