On the morning of July 5, a coyote ascended undetected up stairs leading to the deck of Mona Roberts’ Dunning Drive home overlooking Rim Rock Canyon. The invader managed to grab Tally, Roberts’ 11-year-old, 16-pound Lhasa Apso. Though home at the time, Roberts remained unaware of the attack until she discovered two rather than three dogs on the deck, saw the blood traces, and realized that one of her remaining dogs was injured.
After experiencing a dog owner’s worst nightmare and acknowledging her own ignorance of the threat from local wildlife, Roberts now feels compelled to reach out to Laguna Beach’s throng of pet owners to urge them to adopt practices that discourage the four-legged opportunists.
At 2 p.m. this Sunday, Aug. 5, she invites those interested to her home at 1391 Dunning Drive, to hear Laguna’s senior animal services officer, Joy Falk, describe how the threat of emboldened coyotes in residential areas can be repressed. Given parking constraints, carpooling is advised. And bring a chair or blanket to sit on.
As Roberts has since learned, coyotes have grown more assertive around humans in our area. This behavioral shift, subtle at first, and mostly evidenced by more frequent daylight sightings, spiked last year with a flurry of coyote incidents near Laguna Woods where the interlopers snatched leashed dogs during daylight walks and even knocked over one resident while in pursuit of their pets. Ultimately, trappers were called in.
“That spike is what refocused us,” said Falk. Residents of Laguna Woods were advised to leave no cats or dogs under 50 pounds unattended outside unless they were in completely enclosed spaces.
The increased assertiveness of the coyotes around humans in Laguna Woods was in large part attributed to a larger population of cats being kept outdoors, which had not previously been the case, Falk said. Animal control officers began seeing more reports of cat killing concurrent with an increase in coyote sightings. Drawn by the cats, coyotes are also attracted to food that residents leave outside for pets and raccoons, as well as garbage and fallen tree fruit. What’s more, said Falk, at least three residents in Laguna Woods had been actively feeding the coyotes, giving them more reason to hang around and putting their neighbors’ pets in danger.
Falk presciently anticipated similar activity in Laguna Beach, and Roberts’ experience sadly corroborates that hunch.
“They are being enticed into the community because of the availability of an easy food source, and we need to cut off that food source,” said Falk. “What used to be okay is no longer safe,” she added. “In an urban wildlife interface it is not reasonable to believe that you can safely keep animals outside without secure enclosures,” and this includes rabbits and chickens. Falk suggested roofed dog runs and increasingly popular “catteries” as outdoor options for small pets.
Lynsey White Dasher, an urban wildlife specialist for the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, agreed that food is at the heart of the problem. Coyotes have a natural fear of people and usually go out of their way to avoid us, she said. But the game changes when they discover an easy source of food, despite plentiful natural sources. What’s more, to a coyote, an unattended dog or cat looks very similar to a rabbit or large rodent, she said, which provides another reason pet owners should accompany their pets outside and leash their dogs.
“We need to teach the coyotes that people are scary and that they should stay out of residential neighborhoods,” she said, noting that a practice known as hazing has proved effective at deterring coyotes in the U.S. and Canada.
Hazing involves making the coyotes feel unwelcome by chasing them away. Residents who encounter a coyote should actively attempt to make it leave by waving arms, stomping feet and making loud noises. That often succeeds in causing the coyote to turn away. Don’t stop until it leaves the area. If the animal persists, throw light projectiles such as pebbles, sticks or rubber balls and advance toward it. An unhazed coyote might take longer to leave, but most coyotes will stay away for good after a couple of hazing encounters.
Falk will pass out a hazing template at Sunday’s meeting, but the Humane Society’s web site also offers a guide to hazing.
In extreme cases where a coyote fails to get the message, animal services officers will step up the hazing by using a paintball gun and pursuing them back to their own space. This “tends to be effective,” said Falk, who added that in the rare cases when hazing fails the only alternative is removing the animal lethally, a solution they prefer to avoid. Relocating the coyotes is not an option since all areas of North America are already saturated, she said.
“Now I walk with a walking stick and a can filled with pennies,” said Roberts, who is vigilant about doing her part to change coyote behavior. She never thought to be an advocate for a cause, but wants her tragedy to ultimately increase safety for others. “We as a community need to do something,” she said, as authorities need residents to also haze the predators to successfully deter the emboldened coyotes from entering residential areas.