Guarding Against Predatory Neighbors


This was no cartoon, but the early-morning scene still seemed unreal to Bill and Sherry Zakowicz.

A bold coyote had treed their pet cat in the front yard of their Villa Park home, and when confronted by humans it escaped by blithely leaping over a 6-foot-high wall.

“It’s sort of shocking, then we hear from lots of our friends who have lost cats or even small dogs,” Bill Zakowicz said.


As development pushes suburbia farther into Orange County’s remaining hinterlands, the paths of wild coyotes and domestic dogs and cats are crossing more often.

The pets usually get the worst of the encounters, joining the coyotes’ regular menu of squirrels, rats, mice and other small animals.

“Coyotes come into the city, and people have their cat out and that’s easy prey for them. They’ll have them for dinner or breakfast,” said Mike Teague, a Newport Beach animal control officer.

Many people in outlying areas share that view and have accepted the danger to their pets as a trade-off for living close to the wilderness, said Dave Perlman, chairman of the Sierra Sage chapter of the Sierra Club, which covers southern Orange County.

“We’ve kind of settled an area that traditionally belongs to coyotes,” Perlman said. “Most people are very tolerant. Some people like to complain when they think animals are intruding on their turf, but it’s really the reverse.

“Their favorite little pet disappears, and they’re faced with some grief and they want to get revenge on an animal that doesn’t know any better,” Perlman said.


Cities across Orange County have grappled with the problem, pressured from residents who have lost pets. Villa Park tried to draft a coyote survey earlier this year to help guide the City Council as it debated the possibility of trapping or killing coyotes that wander into town. But animal-rights activists and residents could not agree on how the survey should be worded, so no action was taken.

In years past, San Clemente experimented with trapping the coyotes. But when that happened, the remaining coyotes adapted by having larger litters, said Joy Lingenfelter, animal services officer for Laguna Beach.

People tempted to take matters into their own hands by shooting or poisoning coyotes should remember that to do so is against state laws and city ordinances, she said. “We definitely would intervene in something like that.

“If we didn’t have the coyotes, we’d have a real rodent problem, and we’re on the borderline as it is,” Lingenfelter said. If the rodent population increases, so does the danger of the diseases they carry, including the deadly hantavirus and even plague, she said. “You just can’t remove one strand of the web without the rest of it collapsing.”

She and Teague said the coyote problem isn’t as serious as some people believe. Teague said his department received 80 calls last year of coyote sightings or suspected attacks. The total so far this year is 13.

They advise pet owners to keep their animals in at night. That, along with securing garbage can lids and not leaving pet food outdoors, are the three easiest ways to keep coyotes out of the neighborhood, they said.


And they advise anyone who comes across a coyote while out walking a pet to make a loud noise to scare it off or throw a handful of rocks to break its concentration.

Lingenfelter said a missing cat might be blamed on a coyote when the culprit is really the neighbor down the street who tired of the cat using his garden for a litter box.

“I think the coyotes get blamed for a lot of cat problems that aren’t necessarily their predation,” Lingenfelter said.

“Outdoor cats have a real short life span in general, for a lot of different reasons,” she said. An owner decides “it’s a coyote predator, so they get another cat and put it out, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

But Zakowicz, who has lived in Villa Park since 1961, said the coyote problem has worsened in recent years. He speculates that construction in Anaheim Hills is driving the coyotes to other neighborhoods, including his.

He said he has seen bands of coyotes loping along the street while he is driving to work at 6:30 a.m. And he has seen them trotting down the road while neighbors are walking their dogs.


“They’ve lost a real fear of humans, at least of seeing them,” Zakowicz said.

“We’ve had them during the day, two o’clock in the afternoon, all times.”

John Mocniak, who has lived in the San Clemente foothills for four years, has lost one cat to a coyote, suspects that to have been the fate of another that disappeared and almost had it happen to a third.

“There’s lots of coyotes around here,” he said. “It’s something when we moved in we knew would be the case.

“The coyotes are basically doing their job,” Mocniak said.

“That’s their living. If they happen to come across a cat, that’s food.”