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City Concocts Plan to Thwart Wily Coyotes

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s a modern solution for modern times. The City Council is considering giving lithium to coyotes.

Residents have been calling for city action against the wily predators that they say have been killing household pets. But a plan to trap the animals with leg irons drew howls of protest from animal-rights activists.

Now, local officials are considering doped bait instead. The drug has an anti-depressant effect on humans but a different result for coyotes.

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“It’s a very simple process. It makes them vomit,” Stuart Ellins, a behavioral psychologist based at Cal State San Bernardino, said of the compound lithium chloride, which can be placed in garbage or in animal carcasses as coyote bait.

The theory is, if the coyotes get sick at a food site where they’re not wanted, they will stay away in the future and go back to hunting their natural food sources, such as rabbits and rodents.

At a special meeting Monday night, the City Council proposed paying Ellins $1,500 to try an experimental food aversion program at a site where coyote dens are suspected. Officials are expected to approve the funding tonight and to delay a $6,500 contract approved in May with a Chino-based trapper, Dan Fox of Animal Pest Management Service, to kill the coyotes.

“We’re going to poison them first. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll hang them,” City Manager Fred Maley had joked earlier in the day.

But longtime resident and City Hall secretary Kathy Adrian said of Ellins’ proposal to set out bait laced with a lithium salt, “It’s very strange. I just don’t think it will work.”

Adrian has personal experience with the animals’ habits. Her pet schnauzer destroyed a screen door one morning last summer to get out of the house and race up a hill to challenge a prowling coyote.

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“They were up on their hind legs tussling with each other. I just started screaming and yelling really loud. I think I scared the coyote off,” she said. Now she lets her dogs outdoors only on leashes, and she said she would like to see the coyotes removed from the neighborhood.

“I think if guns were allowed here, most people would be out shooting and taking care of it that way,” Adrian said. “It’s gotten pretty heated.”

Villa Park City Clerk Kaysene Miller said at least 30 complaints about coyote attacks have been made in the past three months. Residents have taken sides in an increasingly bitter battle over what to do, she said. But at Monday’s meeting, most seemed satisfied.

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Ellins and other experts say coyotes are extremely resilient creatures that may actually thrive when some of their numbers are killed off. The survivors have more food, are healthier and produce larger litters as a result.

Ellins said the lithium chloride does not harm the animals, it merely changes their behavior. He said he has studied food aversion for 20 years and that the technique has been successfully used on wolves, bears, wild birds and even raccoons in Joshua Tree National Park, Riverside County, the Antelope Valley and elsewhere.

He acknowledged, though, that doping the coyotes is controversial.

“Most humans hate coyotes. They want them dead. Someone who has lost a pet, who is scared of them, they want them eliminated,” Ellins said. “But coyotes are indigenous to the American West. They’ve been here forever, and they will be here. You’re just reestablishing the natural order. . . . They go back to the natural prey they should be eating.”

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Some animal rights groups also object to making animals sick. But Jane Garrison of Fullerton, who works for People For Ethical treatment of Animals, said she approves of Villa Park’s plan to hire Ellins.

“It beats leg irons,” she said.

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Ellins said it is important for pet owners and others who want the creatures destroyed to realize that coyotes are naturally shy, cowards in fact, who never attack humans. He said reports of coyotes sleeping on people’s porches or attacking leashed pets probably involved “coy dogs,” a cross breed of coyote and dog.

He said the lithium causes no long-term harm to the animals and that vomiting is a natural process for coyotes to eliminate toxins from their systems. The compound put in the bait is more like table salt than the lithium prescribed for humans, he said.

“I don’t deal with animals’ heads, I’m interested in their stomachs,” he said.

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