One evening this spring Maureen Mello had a deer run into her car. Later that night, while taking pictures in her driveway of what would be $2,100 in damage, she turned around and saw a coyote staring at her 15 yards away.

She had been texting these wildlife encounters to her sister, who had to ask, "Where ARE you?"

"I'm in front of my home," Mello replied. "The country has come to me."

Indeed, Mell'™s home is smack in the middle of Cincinnati, in Paddock Hills, a hilly neighborhood of a couple hundred families just a few miles from downtown. The deer hit her car on Reading Road in front of Woodward High School. A coyote has been seen regularly by residents and work crews over the last couple years in Paddock Hills, the neighborhood bounded by the decidedly urban streets of Reading and Tennessee, and the green spaces of Avon Woods Golf Course and Nature Center.

Strolling the Streets

This summer, one resident saw three coyotes in her backyard; a single coyote has frequently been seen in the middle of the day walking down the middle of side streets. And, Lina Orr, president of the community council known as the Paddock Hills Assembly, says a coyote couple, with newborn cubs, is living this summer in her cul-de-sac in a green space hillside bordered by Tennessee Avenue.

"When sirens sound, you can hear them howling and the pups are yipping," Orr says. "They go in chorus with my German Shepherd who howls when the sirens go by. It's actually kind of cool listening to them."

From Clifton to Clermont

Urban coyote sightings in these parts are nothing new, although the concentration of apparently several in Paddock Hills may be a bit rare. In the last five years, coyotes have been seen in Clifton, Blue Ash, West Chester and several Clermont County communities. This summer, one has been spotted in Park Hills, Kentucky. Usually the sightings coincide with missing cats, one of the coyote's food sources. In all cases, the coyotes run when a human yells or acts threatening.

In Hyde Park this summer, the issue has been fox sightings in several parts of the neighborhood. One YouTube video has been posted as proof. A fox is seen on a sidewalk, skittish, yet somewhat comfortable, amidst a number of humans, even taking some food almost out of someone's hand. (Rule number one: Don't feed the wildlife!)

Evolving Ecology

Coyotes and foxes are relatively new to the urban critter menagerie, joining the white-tailed deer, which has been overrunning Cincinnati parks and green spaces for years.

Sure, suburban sprawl has encroached on traditional wildlife haunts, and you can find almost daily reports of man-versus-varmint encounters across America's suburbs with bears, cougars, alligators and wolves. But in areas like Hyde Park and Paddock Hills "”urban neighborhoods that have existed for almost 100 years "” it's the critters encroaching on humans.

Wildlife experts say the urban habitat of coyote, fox and deer may be part of a new, evolving ecology.

"The coyote population the last decade has exploded in Ohio," says Matthew Hunt, an officer for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, District 5, which oversees Hamilton County. "As they increase, they expand their range, so they have adapted to urban and suburban environments. All they need is a food supply and they aren't picky about what they eat "” dead animals to trash. If there is a creek corridor, or a park setting, they have everything they need to get by."

Hunt says the urban fox population may be increasing because of the coyote overpopulation. The theory among Ohio trappers and hunters is that the coyotes are pushing the fox out of farmland into urban areas, since foxes are not aggressive and give way to the coyote.

Do Nothing

"I now see more fox in suburbs and urban areas than I do out in the farmlands," Hunt says. "Usually, if you leave a fox alone, they'll be there a few weeks then leave."

But what's to be done about urban coyotes? Nothing, is the advice of wildlife experts, an answer that may be disconcerting to people who have seen a coyote staring at them in their driveway.

"We see them as helpful," says Rachel Rice, naturalist at the Avon Woods Nature Center, part of the Cincinnati Parks and Recreation Department. "They are keeping the rodent population down and also helping with some of the overpopulation of deer by going after baby fawns. We don't view them as a nuisance, more as a good part of the ecological system."

Paddock Hills residents have also noted a decided drop in the feral cat population.

Orr says, so far, she has learned to coexist with her coyote family and is not overly concerned. But still, she wonders, "there is one that doesn't look very good. Kind of mangy. I worry if there is a toddler around and that coyote comes upon it. If I let my cats out, well, that's kind of my fault, if something happens to them."

Private critter control companies can't do much since they can set traps only on the property of a homeowner who hires them. It makes it hard to trap an animal roaming a neighborhood.

Coyotes are lazy, opportunistic hunters, usually not stalking their game, according to Hunt. It will go for a cat or small dog, if one walks by. A coyote attacking a human is almost unheard of. The only fatal case of a coyote attack in recent history occurred in 1981 in a Los Angeles suburb.

Get Used to It

The definitive study of the urban coyote comes from Chicago, conducted by the Ohio State School of Environment and Natural Resources. The Cook County Coyote Project was undertaken because Chicago may be the king of the jungle when it comes to urban coyotes, with up to 350 removed in a year.

The project radio-collared 175 coyotes, tracking them since 2006 and found officials may be unnecessarily going through the trouble of removing them. The study concluded: "We were surprised to find so many coyotes living near people in Cook County, and yet relatively few conflicts have been reported"¦Few coyotes have become nuisances in Cook County, and it is likely that this is true of other metropolitan areas. It remains to be seen if conflicts will remain relatively rare or if they become more common as coyotes adjust to living with humans."

The study confirmed the urban coyote feeds mostly on rodents, cats and the occasional deer fawn.

Good News for Songbirds

(Cat-haters and songbird-lovers will like the coyote. A California study found songbird nesting increased in areas with coyote activity, since cats are responsible for killing millions of birds a year).

In Ohio, it is open season year-round on coyotes and Hunt says the Department of Wildlife has no problem with hunters taking them out to reduce the population. Of course, that's more problematic in urban areas where most cities, including Cincinnati, have laws against discharging a firearm.

Hunt sees coyote removal this way: "Some coyotes are good, some are bad. If there is one in your neighborhood and they aren't hurting anything, then just leave them alone. If the animal is taken out, then another coyote might move in and this might be the bad boy who might go for the cat or dog and bark and howl."

Mello and Orr think it is somewhat "odd" that the policy is apparently "do nothing." But, for now, they are willing to take the experts' advice that the coyotes are not harmful and learn to live with them in the neighborhood.

While no one is exactly rolling out the coyote welcome wagon, Orr acknowledges she's been referring to one male by name: "We have been calling him 'Wile E.' What else?"