Suburban Americans fear coyotes preying on their pets
When Charlene Warner walks her dog each morning in her neighborhood in upscale Seal Beach, California, she’s terrified she’ll be attacked — not by muggers or gangs, but by coyotes.
“They are killing our animals. They are scaring us. I go out every morning with rocks in my pockets, tennis shoes on, mace on my neck, a whistle on my neck and a foghorn on my leash, and I still don’t feel safe,” Ms. Warner said last week in comments before the Seal Beach City Council.
She has reason to be nervous. Stories abound in nearby Orange County of dogs and cats snatched off leashes and plucked out of backyards a few feet away from their horrified owners. Mangled pet carcasses turn up on front lawns, often identifiable only by their tails.
Earlier this month, a woman living in the Leisure World retirement community opened her screen door to pick up her newspaper, only to watch a coyote scamper inside, grab her cat, and run back out. Another Seal Beach resident, Nate Kranda, started a memorial Facebook page for photos of dead pets.
It’s not just Southern California. From Florida to Washington to Maine, communities are wrestling with how to handle the influx of a surprisingly fearless coyote population. Nobody knows whether the coyote’s numbers are actually on the rise, but there’s little doubt that the adaptable predator is increasingly making itself at home in urban and suburban America.
“It’s spreading all across the United States now,” said Rex Baker, professor emeritus at Cal Poly Pomona, who’s done extensive research on coyotes. “You’re having less hunting going on, and urbanization is continuing, and the coyotes are showing up everywhere.”
In rural America, the solution is obvious: Trap and shoot the varmints. In suburbia, however, local governments are increasingly adopting a “coexistence” philosophy promoted by animal rights groups that rejects lethal control in favor of education and behavior modification.
When coyotes get too close, groups like the Humane Society and San Franciscobased Project Coyote recommend hazing: Make noise, stomp your feet, wave your arms, shoot them with water guns, and throw things in order to teach the animals that humans are dangerous.
“Hazing is just a way to remind coyotes that people are something they need to be wary of,” said Project Coyote wildlife ecologist Ashley DeLaup. “It’s something that makes people seem unpredictable again. Because right now, we’re pretty predictable.”
In California, however, hazing is facing a backlash from those who say the ruckus hasn’t stopped the coyotes from feasting on their pets. A group called Coyote Watch is calling on state and local governments to quit relying on individuals to scare off the predators and take a more active role in combatting the coyote infestation.
Critics of the coexistence philosophy cite a 2009 study in the Journal of Wildlife Management on coyotes in Tucson, Arizona, that found 42 percent of their diet consisted of cats.
“Most of the city councils and animal control departments have been unresponsive in managing the population levels of this unchecked predator,” says the Coyote Watch website. “Some are advocating that we must coexist with this predator, and that we should just chase after coyotes banging on pots and pans. But this ‘hazing’ policy has not worked, leaving our children unprotected and our pets served up as nighttime meals.”
In Seal Beach the city council gave up on hazing last week, voting 4-0 to hire a predator control company and begin the strategic trapping and euthanizing of coyotes.
“We learned about the ways to haze, we were educated, we learned what to do about the coyotes, and, as far as I know, we have all put them into place the best that we can,” Mayor Ellery Deaton said. “After that, when the spring came this year, the problem was worse and not better.”
Project Coyote representative Randi Feilich was one of the few to speak out against trapping at the packed meeting. She said other towns like Calabasas, California, have had success with nonlethal control, and noted that the Los Angeles City Council voted in April to ban snare traps.
“Did you know that, in March, the city of Los Angeles banned the trapping of coyotes and animals? The whole city of Los Angeles. And we don’t see Los Angeles on the news right now with all these people saying, ‘Let’s trap wildlife,’” Ms. Feilich said. “Trapping is not a long-term solution, but rather very cruel and inhumane.”
Robert Crabtree, Project Coyote science adviser, argues that not only are lethal control methods like trapping and shooting unethical, they’re also ineffective, because other coyotes quickly fill the void left by missing animals.
“Indiscriminate killing of coyotes doesn’t work. It never works in the long term,” said Mr. Crabtree, who heads the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center in Bozeman, Montana. “Even if you’re lucky and happen to get the offending individual, which is absolutely almost unvalidatable, you may have a short-term response, and even then it’s unethical and is not economically justified.”
Coyotes have been encroaching on suburban and even urban population centers, where they often feast on house pets.