In her 16 years with OC Parks, Barbara Norton has seen her share of coyotes.
But the number is up this year, and the animals are reportedly more aggressive, which Norton said could be the result of California's record drought.
"There are a lack of grasses and plants [for rodents] to eat, so we're not seeing as much prey for [coyotes]," said Norton, a supervising ranger at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park who lives in Laguna Beach's Mystic Hills area. "They are being more bold and going into areas on the urban edge in search of food."
Coyotes have long been seen in Laguna Beach neighborhoods, but residents have noticed a greater presence lately. Danae Dybas, who lives on Tahiti Avenue near Thurston Middle School, said she saw coyotes five times in one week in June.
She knows all too well the danger they present. Two years ago she and her husband lost their two Bichon Frises to coyotes. They returned home from dinner one night, but their dogs weren't there to greet them as usual.
The Dybas' found one of the dogs gutted by a coyote and never located the other.
One day in June, Dybas awoke at 4:30 a.m. to her Maltese barking. Two coyotes stood at a window, peering into the house.
"I thought, 'Are they going to try and get my dog?'" said Dybas, who closed the window and drove around the neighborhood to warn others who she knew walked their dogs at that time.
Two days later, at 5:30 a.m., coyotes were seen in the same spot in Dybas' yard. This time, Dybas chased the animals away, her arms flailing.
"They are crafty," Dybas said. "Every time I go out front, I look around to see if anything is there."
Coyotes eat both meat and plants and sometimes prey on dogs left outside, Norton said.
Three Yorkshire terriers were taken from backyards within one week last summer near Bern and Temple Hills drives, according to Laguna Beach police.
In one incident, the owner let his dog into the backyard to exercise and noticed it was missing a short while later.
Laguna Beach police received 62 coyote-related calls in 2013, almost double the number that came in the previous year.
This year, police received 35 coyote-related calls as of June 13. Twenty-eight of the callers reported seeing one or more coyotes.
"It's important for people not to leave pet food or pets outside, even for a few minutes," Norton said.
"They are opportunistic predators, eating anything available to them," said Jason Holley, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife supervising biologist. "Some of them aren't afraid of people."
Whether the drought is definitively to blame for coyotes' recent behavior remains unanswered since no scientific studies have been done on the matter, Holley said.
Coyotes travel alone and in packs, said Holley, who urges dog walkers to keep their canines on a leash if they encounter a coyote.
"Never let a dog off leash to play with a coyote," he said. "Even if you only see one, there could be more coyotes around the corner."
Holley called coyotes "prolific survivors" who keep rodent populations at bay and clean up road kill.
"Wildlife biologists have a great respect for them," he said.
Do not leave small pets or children unsupervised outside homes or in wilderness areas.
Carry a walking stick or golf club with you during any walks or hikes. Do not walk or hike alone.
Always keep your pet dogs on a leash when off of your own property.
Trim or thin out shrubbery around your home to reduce the chance of the coyote setting up a den or hiding on your property.
If confronted by a coyote, stand as tall as possible, shout at the animal in an attempt to scare it away. If that fails, and without placing yourself in danger, throw rocks in the coyote's direction to try to hit it.
If a coyote attacks a person, call 911 immediately.
It is against the law to feed coyotes or any other wildlife.
Source: Laguna Beach Police Department