KENNEBUNK, Maine — A West Kennebunk family had an unpleasant surprise Monday night when an animal staggered out of the woods behind their Balsam Lane home, crawled under the back porch and died.
It all unfolded around 7 p.m. Monday night when 14-year-old Ryan Chiasson was home with friends.
“My friend was in the bathroom and looked out window and said, ‘Oh my God, there’s a wolf!'” she said.
At that point, the three teens ran onto the back porch.
“It came up and stared at us,” Chiasson said. “It was limping and its mouth was open. It seemed confused.”
Chiasson said the animal then went under the porch and laid down. The teens, fearing it might be rabid, went inside to call police.
“When we came back out, it was dead,” Chiasson said.
While Chiasson and her friends thought the all-white animal was an albino wolf, a Kennebunk police officer who came to the scene told them it was a coyote.
The Chiassons were told to contact the Maine Warden Service, Lt. Tony Bean Burpee said, since the police don’t dispose of dead wildlife.
The wardens, however, wouldn’t come to take the animal either, though they did advise them on how to safely remove it.
“My mom was a little upset no one would move it,” Chiasson said.
Her mother, Lizz Chiasson, said while she understood that both the police and warden service couldn’t take it away, she was concerned about her own two dogs and other neighborhood pets.
“My concern was the animals,” she said. “I was concerned about rabies. I didn’t want my own dogs getting near it.”
Maine Wildlife Biologist Scott Lindsay said while the warden service will come down to remove a live animal showing symptoms of rabies, it doesn’t routinely pick up animals that are already dead, as they don’t pose a threat.
“Shortly postmortem, the rabies virus is no longer viable,” he said.
Instead, the service recommends that people use gloves and gardening tools to load the body into a box or bag and then, if weather permits, bury the animal, or in weather such as this, take it back out into the woods to decompose.
When Lindsay looked at the photos sent to him by the Star, he said he wasn’t convinced the animal was a coyote.
Citing the angles of the animal’s face and the shape of its ears, Lindsay said he was interested in seeing the animal in person, to determine whether it was a dog or a coyote.
“I can’t say for sure,” he said.
Lindsay said while it’s unusual for a wild animal like a coyote to seek shelter near humans as it’s dying, it’s not unusual to see coyotes die this time of year, when the snow is covering so much of the available food.
Lindsay said younger coyotes are often driven away from the area where they’re born and forced to fend for themselves. That can be tough with so much packed snow around.
“They can’t procure food,” he said, adding that the mortality rate for young coyotes is 40 percent or higher. “Their fat reserves are exhausted. Many don’t make it. They usually go off on their own and die.”
The same is true of coyotes that are hit by cars and suffer internal injuries, he said.
While having the coyote die near a home is unusual, what really set this one apart was its color.
“You don’t usually have white coyotes,” Lindsay said, adding that most are a grizzled gray or beige. “It’s very unusual.”
So unusual, in fact, that a friend of the Chiassons came along Tuesday afternoon to take the animal he identified as a female to a taxidermist.
Lizz Chiasson was glad to have it gone, but sad that it died at all.
“It was a beautiful animal, actually,” she said.