Small dogs and other pets should not be left unsupervised in Fairfield yards, officials say.

That's because a growing number of coyotes live here in Fairfield and the surrounding suburbs, and the wily creatures often consider small domestic animals as prey, according to Paul Miller, Fairfield's animal control officer.

In the most recent report of a coyote threatening a local pet, Miller was told that a coyote charged at a Shih Tzu around 12:30 p.m. Friday at an Old Barn Road home. The coyote, according to the homeowner, appeared to have mange, a skin condition caused by mites.

The coyote intimidated the dog, but there was no physical contact or injuries.

"When we got there, it was gone," Miller said of the coyote.

While many residents have yet to spot a coyote, they have been living in the suburban environs of Connecticut for years. Miller said they've been seen in Fairfield as long ago as 1989, when he joined the Animal Control Department. During Miller's time in Fairfield, there have only been a few reports of coyote attacks on dogs, and as such, he is hesitant to call coyotes dangerous.

"They haven't proven to be overtly dangerous," he said.

To lesson the possibility of an attack on a dog or small child, Miller suggests residents not leave uncovered food in their yards (coyotes will even eat birdseed), and monitor pets and children when they're outside.

Usually, simply yelling at a lurking coyote is sufficient to make it retreat.

"If you have small children and you're concerned about coyotes, then just watch them when they're playing in the yard," said Miller.

Miller said he has never received a report of a coyote attacking a human in Fairfield. He said there was such an attack in upstate New York, but it occurred at a McDonald's where employees regularly fed the coyote leftovers.