By Josh Noel
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
CHICAGO - Cissy Lacks was heading toward an afternoon of shopping in a Lincolnwood mall parking lot when she saw what she thought was a skinny, ragged dog slinking between the cars.
Suddenly the animal—a wild-eyed, snarling coyote—lunged for her 4-year-old miniature poodle, Annie.
Without thinking, so did Lacks.
The 60-year-old retired high school English teacher found herself in a tug of war with the coyote over her dog. She had hold of Annie's front end while the coyote clamped its jaws around the dog's hind quarters.
The contest lasted 15 brutally long seconds, but the coyote gave up after Lacks chucked a bag of clothes at it.
"The first day [after the incident], Annie was very, very sad, but now she's in great sprits," said Lacks, of St. Louis, who was in town visiting family. "But I still get a little edgy thinking about what could have happened."
The parking lot showdown was among the most brazen in a series of recent coyote attacks in the Chicago suburbs, and, experts say, a rare case of a coyote taking on a person, albeit over a dog. Coyotes have recently killed a terrier on a Northfield front lawn, a beagle in a Glencoe back yard and a 3½-pound Yorkshire terrier snatched in front of its owner outside an Arlington Heights home.
Thanks to Lacks, Annie fared much better, left only with a small gash on her left hind leg, several teeth marks and a large plastic cone around her neck to keep her from irritating the wound.
When the attack began outside Lincolnwood Town Center about 2:45 p.m. on March 27, Lacks said she was only able to lift the front of her 20-pound dog because the coyote already had a grip on the back half. Lacks did exactly what coyote experts advise: yell, kick with her boot and throw the bag in her hand.
The coyote retreated, but with an insouciance that still haunts Lacks.
"It sauntered away as if nothing happened," she said. "It just seemed to lose interest. I can't say I was heroic and fought it off. It's even scarier because of that."
Lincolnwood Deputy Police Chief Pete Swanson said Lacks reported the attack to officers at the mall, though the police did not witness the attack. He said officers assume Lacks did indeed come nose-to-nose with a coyote because the department has responded in the last two weeks to two other sightings of such an animal in the northern suburb.
Officers have tried unsuccessfully to catch it.
Armando Gracia, a Lincolnwood police community service officer, said a coyote has been spotted at a construction site near Devon and Lincoln Avenues—just blocks from the mall, which is at Touhy Avenue and McCormick Boulevard.
They tried to lasso it at the construction site but couldn't get close enough.
"As soon as he sees movement he runs away," Gracia said. "Those things are really fast."
Coyotes have been a growing presence in the Chicago area for 20 years, said Bob Bluett, a wildlife biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. But coyotes usually keep their distance from people, even when the person is walking a dog. An aggressive move like the parking lot battle is rare.
"Usually the incidents aren't that bold," he said. "We're usually talking about the animal getting within 10 feet of a person, not actually getting into a tug of war."
He said the animals seem less wary than ever of humans.
Ten years ago a coyote looked over its shoulder when it entered humans' territory and found a free meal in a bowl of dog food, Bluett said. Now coyotes are "not looking over their shoulder," he said. "It keeps going through the generations until they're just saying, 'Well, there's another person.'"
Rob Erickson, a self-employed coyote trapper who recently nabbed seven coyotes for the Village of Arlington Heights, said coyotes are going after pets more often.
"It doesn't seem to be getting rare at all anymore," he said. "It's increasing. It's alarming. They've adapted to suburbia so well."
This is the time of year when coyotes are most likely to come into contact with humans and their pets, he said. Coyote mating season is—coincidentally—around Valentine's Day, which puts most births around mid-April. Until the pups arrive, he said, male coyotes are extremely territorial and itching for a fight.
Another possibility, he said, is that the Lincolnwood coyote is ill. Sick coyotes typically don't have the strength to hunt wild prey and need to go after slower, easier targets.
"Those are the types of animals we recommend be removed," Bluett said. "We don't see all coyotes as evil. There are all sorts in the Chicago area that don't cause problems, but when we see one like that, removal is probably in everyone's best interest."