Coyotes creating problems in Big Canyon

It takes a lot to knock down a 220-pound former farmer.

Bruce Roberts, a tough-talking Costa Mesa man who used to hunt and trap, and his Boston terrier, Bones, were ambushed Saturday by three coyotes.

The man and his dog were taking their early-morning walk in West Newport near West Coast Highway when three coyotes stalked them from behind and pounced on Bones, toppling Roberts in the process, he said.

While Bones survived the mauling by the coyotes, in which he required 16 stitches, the experience shook up Roberts — and he's not the only one. Residents in Big Canyon, a gated community on the other side of Newport, have also complained to city and state officials recently about seemingly more aggressive coyotes. But animal experts say there's nothing new about their behavior, and the best defense is to keep pets indoors.

"If the coyotes live in the area, there's just not much we can do about that," said Mike Peague, an animal control officer with the city.

He's been fielding coyote complaints for the last 18 years: missing cats, daytime sightings and pet remains. He hasn't noticed an increase recently and said it's "status quo."

That's little solace for Gay Long, a 10-year resident of Big Canyon. She has encountered coyotes on multiple occasions while walking her Maltese, Daisy. This is the worst season — summertime is when coyote pups learn to scavenge — since she moved to the neighborhood, she said.

"We're just all on alert," Long said.

Big Canyon neighbors have posted missing pet signs at the community gates; someone even posted a coyote warning sign, Long said. Neighbors share stories of killed cats. The current tally is 27 deaths in the past several months, though nobody could say who was officially keeping track.

"We're being assaulted," said Candy Klieman, a 12-year resident of Big Canyon. She has seen some coyotes in mid-afternoon, which is unusual for the mostly nocturnal animals.

"They don't have any fear," she added.

While Klieman and other residents call the California Department of Fish and Game to complain about the scavengers, the agency won't respond unless a human is attacked, according to Fish and Game public information officer Harry Morse.

"People get very protective because pets are part of the family," Morse said. "But we just don't have the people to respond."

He estimated that the agency's Southern California offices get between nine and 36 calls per week about coyotes attacking pets or roaming neighborhoods. He said there are between 10 and 15 wardens in the region.

But if it's deemed a "public safety issue," such as coyotes near schoolchildren, his group will respond.

Some naturalists point out that humans, including Big Canyon residents, are living on land that was once strictly wildlife.

That doesn't mollify Klieman.

"This community's been around for 40 years. It's not like we're encroaching," she said.

Tips And Tricks

To prevent coyotes in residential areas, the Department of Fish and Game recommends:

Never feed a coyote

Feed pets inside, or bring pet food inside before night.

Eliminate any water sources for coyotes

Don't feed feral cats

Make sure coyotes can't get to bird feeders

Secure trash cans

Trim shrubbery near ground level that coyotes can hide under.

If you see a coyote, yell or throw rocks to let them know they aren't welcome.

If you see a coyote, report it to 911.

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