BANGOR, Maine — Some city residents and officials are telling Bangor-area pet owners to keep a tighter leash on their small dogs and cats.

Residents in the Howard Street area of Bangor, in particular, and outlying areas have reported lost or missing pets, and many of them think coyotes or foxes are to blame.

Lori O’Neill, who lives on Howard Street with husband, Everett, son, Brady, and daughter, Brooke, has lost five cats over the past year.

“One was hit by a car, and we figured maybe the first one was just one that ended up going somewhere else and getting taken in by someone, but after we lost two cats within a month, that’s when we started thinking there was something different going on,” said O’Neill, the secretary to the city manager in Bangor.

While many blame foxes, O’Neill is convinced that coyotes are the culprits in her cats’ disappearances.

“We can hear them howling at night. I know they’re out there,” said Brady. “I go outside to get the cats in with a flashlight to try to find them and scare the coyotes away.

“You see the eyes shining in the dark, and you can hear them howling and making a weird laughing noise at night,” he said.

While Patt Pinkham, Bangor’s animal control officer for 29 years, doesn’t disagree that coyotes are indeed living in the greater Bangor area and Penobscot County in general, she places the blame on another creature.

“Actually, I don’t think it’s coyotes as much as I think it’s foxes,” said Pinkham, who lives in Stetson. “I have yet to see a coyote or even coyote tracks in this area.

“I have seen many more foxes in this area, in fact, and they’re healthy looking, which tells me they’re eating,” she said.

Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Game Warden Jim Fahey said the area near O’Neill’s home is ideal for coyotes.

“There’s a lot of good habitat in that area between the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center and Howard Street, so it’s certainly possible that coyotes could be behind some of those disappearances,” he said. “That area has had several reports of coyotes for a couple of years, but they are hard to substantiate because they disappear quickly.”

Fahey says foxes are much more visible than they used to be.

“I’m convinced foxes have adapted better to us than we’ve adapted to them,” he said, adding that the idea that every fox is rabid is an overgeneralization. “They’re very adaptable and are changing tactics and using what’s available as a food source, even if it’s dog or cat food left on someone’s steps.”

Pinkham said she has no scientific data to determine whether the local populations of wild animals is increasing or not, but she does have a theory.

“The numbers may be slightly up, but I think we’re just seeing them more because we’re encroaching on their territory more and more with development,” Pinkham said. “Every time we put another building up, that’s part of their habitat and they’ve got no place to go.

Pinkham added that this is typically the time of the year that foxes and coyotes train their babies to hunt.

“It’s not just foxes and coyotes,” she said. “There are ermine as well, and raccoons are also dangerous, especially if cornered.”

Pinkham also made the point that some dogs, especially huskies, are routinely mistaken for wolves and coyotes.

“I wouldn’t say the coyote population is any greater or lesser than it has been in the Bangor area,” Fahey said. “As far as foxes, to me, the increase in the frequency of mange in the fox population tells me their numbers may be increasing.”

Orono police Sgt. Scott Scripture said he hasn’t noticed reports of missing pets on the rise in Orono.

“We’ve had cases of foxes taking smaller pets in the past, but as far as I know, we haven’t had any reports more than usual over the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Coyotes are around, but we really don’t see many of them.”

Scripture agreed that local wild animals are losing more and more of their natural habitat to development.

“I think Patt’s assessment is fair,” he said. “And I think, given my experience, that pet disappearances would have more to do with foxes than coyotes around here.”

Pinkham doesn’t get involved with wild animal incidents. She refers those calls to police or game wardens from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“They have damage control coordinators who live-trap wild animals and release them back into the wild,” Pinkham said. “It’s basically a pest control service people pay a fee for.”

Scripture said while many missing pets are simply victims of automobiles, some are simply taken in by kind-hearted residents and dropped off at animal orphanages or humane societies if they aren’t wearing collars or identification.

Everyone asked about possible incidents of predatory attacks on pets agreed that it’s incumbent on owners to be proactive in order to protect their pets.

“My best advice is to simply make sure your cats and dogs aren’t allowed out to roam away from the home, especially overnight,” Pinkham said. “Just make sure your pets are close by or in. And make sure they’re up to date on their rabies shots.”

Any stray pets picked up get taken to local shelters and, by law, cannot be adopted for three (cats) or seven (dogs) days. Strays with wounds of unknown origin cannot be adopted and will be euthanized if their owners don’t claim them within the same time frame.

“We always brought our cats in at night, but every now and then they get out and don’t come back for awhile,” said O’Neill, who has two cats, one kitten and two dogs currently at her home. “Now we’re just bringing them in all the time.

“We’re trying to transition to having just indoor cats all the time now.”