“Never turn your back on a coyote,” warned Laguna Beach resident Mona Roberts. She should know. In the year since her Lhasa apso Tally was grabbed from the deck of her Dunning Drive home by a coyote, Roberts has become a self-taught expert on coyote behavior and she’s spreading the word.
Roberts shared her painful experience and the valuable lessons she learned with about 35 residents last week at Top of the World elementary school.
A spate of coyote attacks that claimed the lives of four small Yorkshire terriers in the area last month prompted the Laguna Beach police department to arrange the meeting, moderated by
Civilian Supervisor Jim Beres and Animal Services Officer John Thompson. The officers discussed the best ways to handle encounters with urban coyotes and the importance of sharing information about their whereabouts with the police.
Coyotes running loose and going from one place to another should not be a concern, Thompson told the group. “That’s normal,” he said. When coyotes lose their innate fear of humans and increasingly trespass in residential areas, boldly grabbing domestic pets from backyards, “that’s where it gets really serious and we have to get involved,” he cautioned.
And “relocating a problem coyote is not an option because it only moves the problem to someone else’s neighborhood,” points out a “Keep Me Wild” brochure by the state Department of Fish and Game distributed to residents at the meeting and also available online. Euthanizing these wild creatures is not an accepted practice and would only be considered if an animal attacks humans, noted Beres.
To keep coyotes out of residential areas and maintain their natural fear of people requires hazing, or frightening, them and removing food sources that attract them, the officers explained.
Hazing involves demonstrating to coyotes that they are unwelcome. For example, people shouldn’t ignore a coyote on a residential street or a path used by people and pets. Residents should aggressively face the animal, make eye contact, yell loudly, clap or use a noisemaker, and wave their arms to encourage it to move on. And don’t stop until it is gone. Pet owners should pick up small dogs. Running away will only encourage the coyote to chase you.
And if yelling and screaming doesn’t make the coyote leave, “we’re asking you to throw an object at the coyote and hit it,” said Thompson. Weapons, including pellet guns, slingshots and bows and arrows, are illegal. But pebbles can scare them away off and heighten the animal’s perception of unfriendly territory.
Ideally, residents should not go dog walking alone in deserted areas. And if it’s unavoidable, they should carry a large stick or golf club and some kind of noisemaker, urged the officers, who passed out a coyote hazing guide that is available on the city’s website.
Roberts always carries a walking stick and a siren-like device she purchased on line. She suggests flailing your arms, making loud noises, and “just being bigger than they are” to help send coyotes packing.
Coyotes enter neighborhoods in search of food, said Beres. While small animals including rabbits, rodents, cats and small dogs are their typical prey, coyotes are also lured by fallen fruit, pet food and water sources like birdbaths.
Suggested precautionary measures include closing doggie doors at night, removing outdoor water and food dishes, never leaving small pets unattended, and securing trash bins. While a six-foot fence was once considered a deterrent to coyotes, research now shows coyotes can scale fences up to eight feet high, Thompson said.
Pointing to coyotes’ keen intelligence, Beres noted that in Laguna Woods, for example, where the problem is acute, coyotes focus on stealing pets from older, frail women, since they have identified them as less of a threat. They also keep tabs on where small pets live and look for opportunities to find them unattended, he said.
Both Thompson and Beres stressed the importance of informing the police about any sightings or incidents. Whether coyotes grab pets, loiter too long near homes or generally appear to be growing bolder, “we need to know about that,” said Thompson.
The department uses a pin map to track coyote activities, Beres said. If calls of bold coyotes show a trend, animal services officers can step up hazing to push them back. “But if we don’t know about it, we can’t address it. So please don’t think you are bothering us. Call us,” he insisted.