Living With Coyotes

What can you do when you share a neighborhood with predators?

Illustrations by Brian Stauffer

I’ve always felt safe in our planned community, even though my home is close to the hills and wildlife. But recent coyote sightings have made my neighbors and me anxious, and now we have a coyote “situation” because of attacks on neighborhood pets. So two Irvine police officers have come to talk to us, and we’ve gathered on chairs by the pool.

One hands out plastic whistles. “These will startle coyotes and make them feel unwanted,” she says.

I think back to my own coyote encounter. Would a whistle have worked? I have my doubts.

“What about the children?” a woman asks.

“There have been very few attacks on people,” one of the officers responds.

A man standing at the back of the group, hands stuffed in jeans pockets, says, “Can’t you do something? Kill them?” He looks down at his feet.

“The coyotes were here first. We’ve taken over their territory.” The officer pauses, measuring the group’s reaction. “And studies have found that the more we try to eradicate coyotes, the more their population grows.”

The man at the back speaks again. “I had four small dogs, two Shih Tzus and two Yorkies.”

We all turn in his direction.

“The other night I heard commotion in the backyard. By the time … ” He stops. “By the time I got out there, my Shih Tzus were dead and the Yorkies were injured.” He wipes his eyes on his sleeve. “I couldn’t get anyone to pick up my dead dogs at that hour. Why wasn’t there someone to help?”

My heart hurts for him.

 

My significant other and I often walk before sunrise in a greenbelt along the wash behind our housing tract. It’s the best time for an uninterrupted workout. One day, two coyotes hurried past us to get back to the hills. It was thrilling, being so close to nature. I appreciated the blessings of this Earth, including coyotes.

But then I had a much more intense encounter. I knew the greenbelt was a path for coyotes, but I never realized how much of a threat they would be during daylight. I began my usual morning run-walk around 6 a.m. with Millie, my poodle mix. The morning sun was edging the moon out of the sky when we stepped through the gate and onto the path. I checked for wildlife, then headed north up the wash. It’s two miles, round trip.

Millie pulled ahead, yanking on the leash, undisciplined, desperately in need of obedience training. No one else was on the trail except a passing jogger. The trees and ground cover were neatly barbered, and a hedge partially hid a block wall. Light stanchions lined the walkway, spaced evenly like disciplined soldiers, so perfect, so Irvine.

I glanced backward, looking for approaching mountain bikers. That’s when I noticed movement, something that looked like a dog off its leash, blending in. It took me a second to realize what it was.

“Go away!” I shouted.

The coyote retreated, then appeared to change its mind. It crept close enough so that if I reached out, I could pet it. If I bent over to pick up Millie, would the coyote jump us?

“Go away!” I yelled again and stomped at it, searching my brain for advice about what to do when approached by a wild animal. I made myself as big as I could, yelled, waved the hand holding a bag of dog poop. The coyote paced, head down, looking sideways at Millie. Bent like an old man, its hair was disheveled, as if it were sick. My heart pounded. I kept yelling, and the coyote kept pacing. I started screaming and looked for something to throw, but I had nothing except the bag in my hand. The coyote looked hungry and evil.

My screaming may not have deterred the coyote, but it scared the heck out of Millie. She wriggled out of her collar and took off down the path. I imagined the predator catching Millie before I could, and disappearing with her. I ran after her, screaming her name. She finally stopped and gazed back at me. I’m not sure how I caught my dog before the coyote did, but I scooped her into my arms. The coyote ducked into the bushes.

I struggled to catch my breath as I held 18 pounds of trembling fur, and hurried toward the gate a quarter mile away. And in that moment, I was thinking much like that man at the back of the crowd. Kill them. Kill them all.

Now these Irvine cops are here, and they’re telling us that’s simply not the answer. What had they said about eradication efforts actually increasing coyote populations? I wanted to know more.

Lynsey White Dasher, director of the Humane Wildlife Conflict Resolution for the Humane Society of the United States, has been educating communities all over the country. When the coyote population is reduced, she says, the animals left behind produce more pups, and usually more females. Dasher recently conducted a community training session in Seal Beach, a city that decided to trap and euthanize coyotes. Her message: This approach seldom works, especially if the city doesn’t educate the community about effective hazing methods.

Meantime, the officers advise us to carry a big stick, avoid retractable leashes, and keep our dogs close. They say not to leave food and water out for our pets, especially during this drought. They tell us that barking attracts coyotes during the December-to-March breeding season, so from now on, I resolve to shush Millie any time she woofs at night in the backyard. I won’t venture onto the path along the wash, into the coyotes’ neighborhood, but will stay within the gates of my own.

This will be my uneasy compromise.


 

COYOTE CONFRONTATION TIPS

Practical advice from wildlife specialist Lynsey White Dasher

  • Always keep your dog on a leash.
  • If it’s a small dog, pick it up. If it’s a big dog, bring it closer and place it behind you.
  • Back slowly away while hazing the coyote. Yell. Wave your arms. Use a noisemaker or a squirt gun. Throw rocks.
  • If you often sight a coyote on your regular walking route, avoid that path for a few months. You may be passing a den with pups, or a mate.—Michelle Pagaran

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