Many people believe a dog is their best friend.
But Kevin Duncan’s white German shepherd Charmin proved herself to also be his protector this week.
About 5:30 p.m. Monday, Duncan was outside his home on Ridge Park Drive northwest of Cumming when he was bitten by what he believes was a coyote.
“I was in my driveway, waxing my car and all of a sudden I felt something on the back of my leg and it was painful,” Duncan said. “I looked down and it was an animal, but I didn’t know what it was at first. I just knew it had brown fur.
“I pulled my leg back and slapped it with the towel that I had and it backed off and I backed up.”
But the coyote soon moved toward Duncan again, so he hit it with the towel several more times before dropping it.
“About that time my dog ran down the driveway and plowed into him,” Duncan said. “They both took a tumble and [the coyote] bit my dog and she ran off.”
The coyote then chased Charmin through the woods that surround Duncan’s home before the dog finally got away and returned home.
Due to its unusually aggressive behavior, the coyote — which Duncan described as weighing about 35 pounds — likely was rabid or had some other problem.
“Animals that have rabies, they don’t act normal,” said Dave Palmer, spokesman for District II Public Health, which includes Forsyth County.
“Oftentimes a rabid animal will show no fear towards a human, [while] most of the time wild animals will scamper away. They don’t want any contact with humans. Rabid animals become aggressive.”
Duncan went to Northside Hospital-Forsyth for treatment of the bite, which was on the back of his left leg, above the knee. Health care workers began a rabies program, which Duncan will have to continue over the next couple of weeks.
Palmer said such precautions are standard in cases like this.
“If you get a bite like that and you … can’t get the animal to test it, precaution is always the best and you want to go ahead and get the rabies vaccine,” he said.
Luckily, Charmin, who Duncan adopted about seven years ago from a Jonesboro animal shelter, was up to date on her rabies vaccination.
According to Palmer, ensuring that household pets are current on their vaccinations is important in protecting them and humans from contracting rabies.
“That’s the one thing we really try to stress is for people to always keep their pets vaccinated,” he said.
He added that, while not the case in Duncan’s situation, often humans get bitten by wild animals when they try to interact with the creatures. Therefore, it’s best to avoid them.
“We need to try and stay away from those animals because they will bite you if you mess with them,” he said. “We need to try our best to avoid contact with wild animals.”
Sgt. Lee Brown with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said that while many coyotes do live in north Georgia, they typically aren’t seen by humans.
“The coyotes are here. I live in the north part of Forsyth County and I hear them a lot when I go out at night with my dog,” he said. “So they are close, but they don’t really like people. Even when people are hunting, they very rarely see them.”
Brown said if a coyote does wander into a residential area, most of the time it won’t stay there long.
“Coyotes are very smart and they don’t like human contact, so if one comes into a neighborhood, if it sees somebody, more than likely it’s going to run the other way,” he said, noting that usually when wild animals make human contact they are likely sick with rabies or distemper.
“Or a lot of times these animals will get hit by cars and they may have some internal injuries … that cause them to act unusual.”
He said any of those factors could have played into Duncan’s experience, but it’s impossible to know exactly which since the animal got away.
“The only way to know for sure is to [capture] and animal and have it tested,” he said.
Brown said the best advice for anyone who sees a coyote or any other large wild animal is to avoid it.
“If people see them in their neighborhoods, they should just leave them alone,” he said. “Sometimes [the animals] are hanging around looking for food. So if you move those food sources, like garbage cans and cat and dog food, they’re going to go away.”
If a large wild animal continues to venture into a residential area on an ongoing basis, Brown said local animal control officers should be notifed.
“They can respond muck quicker than we [at DNR] can,” he said. “We can come out to assist if needed.”
As for Duncan, he’s just glad Charmin, whom he described as a rather timid dog, was nearby when the coyote struck.
“I was thankful that she intervened when she did, but I hate that she got hurt,” he said.
Duncan added, however, that Charmin’s efforts haven’t gone unrewarded.
“She gets to eat good for a while. She’s been having chicken for several meals and a lot of extra dog treats.”