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Urban Coyotes on the Prowl in Santa Monica  

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By Melonie Magruder
Lookout Staff

October 19, 2011 -- Recent coyote attacks on family pets have Santa Monica residents wondering if inroads by the wild dogs are on the rise.

Sightings of coyotes have ranged throughout the city, the latest at 27th and Pearl streets on Monday night. At least 14 sightings have been reported this year, and the deaths of two family pets have been attributed to coyote attacks.

One of them was Alison Havel’s cat, Rustle, who disappeared two weeks ago. She lives near Pearl and 21st streets and said that Rustle had spent his whole ten years as an indoor/outdoor pet.

“The day after Rustle went missing, I got a call from Animal Control saying, ‘We have the remains of your cat,” Havel said (Rustle was microchipped). “A few days later, my neighbor told me she and her husband found an animal body in their back yard and asked the city to come pick it up. They have a five-foot tall fence around their yard.”

The city told Havel that Rustle had been attacked by a coyote.

Ellen Levy was walking her dog – and cat, who apparently follows along, leash-less – in her Sunset Park neighborhood a couple of weeks ago around dusk when what she thought was a stray dog came racing down the street.

“I looked around for an owner, but saw no one,” Levy said. “Then, a man getting out of his car said to me, ‘Did you see that coyote?’ It was still daylight!”

According to a recent bulletin issued by the Santa Monica Police Department, coyote attacks come with the city’s proximity to the Santa Monica Mountains, an area “abundant with wildlife.”

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the country’s largest (153,000 acres) urban national park. So the rash of reported local sightings of coyotes – even in densely urban neighborhoods like Sunset Park – is not necessarily that unusual, according SMPD animal control experts.

Coyotes will leave safe mountainous confines for urban neighborhoods to forage, driven by the scarcity of available food following drought and fires, said SMPD Public Information Officer Sergeant Richard Lewis.

“Coyotes have a wide territorial range and will go farther south in search of food and water,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t leave them as much time to return to shelter, so they’re frequently seen in early morning hours.”

Lewis said that coyotes are truly adaptable animals that don’t shy away from urban areas, if the “hunting” is good.

“I have friends who live near the refineries in Huntington Beach and they see coyotes,” he said.

Justin Brown is a biological technician with the National Park Service who has done extensive research on urban coyotes. He said that in one study he did in Chicago, there were packs of coyotes living downtown in the Windy City.

“They’ll jump from their little habitat patches in the middle of real city life,” Brown said. “Parks, cemeteries, alleyways. I’ve even seen coyotes living under hedges in someone’s back yard. They’re secretive and don’t like humans, but they’ll come out at night to hunt.”

And in urban areas, that can mean French fries that have been left on a park bench or that rat’s nest behind your garage.

“There are ecologically supportive reasons to coexist with urban coyotes,” Brown said. “You just have to take precautions and not try to make friends with them.”

For residents who find the appearance of coyotes in the neighborhood to be a little too close to nature for comfort, the SMPD website suggests there are many precautions that can be taken.

Secure garbage can lids. Rinse bottles for recycling and keep compost bins covered well. Spray ammonia in trashcans several times a week and consider motion-activated devices such as lights or sprinklers.

Most coyotes will stay within three square miles or so of their birthplace, which basically means they are here to stay. Don’t feed pets or leave pet food outside – even birdseed – or bring their bowls in at night, even in a fenced yard. Lewis said coyotes can easily hop a five-foot tall fence.

Most importantly, small dogs and cats should not be left outside at night and young children should not be left unattended in areas coyotes have been seen. A three-year-old Glendale girl was dragged from her driveway by a coyote and killed in 1981.

And if you find yourself confronted by a coyote, respond aggressively.

“Make noise, stomp your feet or throw something at them,” Lewis said. “Don’t look them in the eyes (coyotes, like domesticated dogs, will take that as a challenge) and don’t corner them. If you spot one, call 911 and we’ll send someone out right away.”

Trapping or killing an occasional coyote is not going to put a big dent in their populations, though, so a certain acceptance is inevitable.

“They don’t want much to do with people,” Brown said. “Just keep it that way.”

For more information on coyotes in urban areas, visit the SMPD website, which includes a reference guide with tips on how to coexist with local wildlife.

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