Our Laguna: Meeting about coyotes offers important information

Coyotes aren't picky and they are opportunists.

Cats, dogs, chickens, ducks and rabbits roaming around a backyard are easy pickings.

Pet owners are advised by the city's animal control officers to keep their dogs and cats indoors and small livestock in coops unless a human is present — preferably one that is armed with a big stick or noisemaker. Don't bank on fences keeping the predators out, as Dunning Drive resident Mona Roberts learned the hard way.

"It was about 7:45 a.m. and I called police because I thought my dog had been stolen; then I found the blood," said a heart-broken Roberts at a meeting she hosted Sunday for other pet owners.

A coyote had snatched Roberts prize-winning Lhasa Apso, Tally, from the deck right outside the kitchen. Another Roberts dog, Peekaboo, was nipped on the nose and had to be quarantined for a month — Sunday was the dog's first day out.

A group of about 30 worried residents attended the meeting at Roberts' home to learn what folks could do to prevent the same thing happening to their pets.

It's called hazing, according to Senior Animal Control Officer Joy Falk, who conducted the meeting along with Officer Dave Pietarila.

Hazing is aggressive behavior by a human that discourages undesirable behavior or activity by coyotes. It includes yelling "go away" and waving one's arms while approaching the coyote, blowing whistles or air horns, shaking penny-filled soda cans or banging pots and pans together.

Speak loudly and carry a big stick, a cane or a golf club.

Pet owners also can throw small rocks, tennis or rubber balls, turn a hose on the coyote or shoot it with water guns diluted with vinegar.

Police do not advocate the use of pepper spray by untrained individuals, Falk said.

Whatever you do, continue to do it until the coyote completely leaves the area, according to the Animal Services Coyote Hazing Guidelines.

If a coyote has never been hazed before, it might not retreat at first. Keep walking toward the coyote and increase the intensity of the hazing.

You may need to use more than one hazing tactic. The goal is to maintain the coyote's fear of humans and get them out of neighborhood backyards and play areas. Methods need to change so the critter doesn't adjust to it and lose its fear.

Coyotes are skittish by nature and generally back away from aggressive people. However, if you suspect the animal is sick or injured, call the cops. And if you are bitten, immediately get rabies shots.

Although coyotes have learned to live near humans, they are not tame, Falk emphasized. They are "habituated."

"What we have seen is a real shift in the population and in behavior," Falk said. "We have also seen a big spike in bobcats.

"I have worked for the city for 30 years. For the first 10 years, we got maybe eight bobcat calls [per] year. Now we get weekly calls."

Coyotes usually don't tangle with bobcats, but habituated coyotes no longer consider humans to be predators, Falk said.

"They are the most adaptable animals next to humans in North America," Pietarila said.

Behavioral changes include the size of their prey.

Small dogs didn't use to be at risk. Now even larger dogs can be targeted, Falk said.

"Letting a cat outside is a real roll of the dice," Falk said. "They are bait and they draw coyotes to the neighborhood."

The best bet is to make coyotes feel uncomfortable in neighborhood spaces such as backyard and play areas, Falk said.

Coyotes are not nocturnal nor do they not live in dens, unless it's a nursery. They have look-out posts, called lay-ups.

Falk told her audience that she had made repeated contacts with a woman in North Laguna about her barking dog.

One day the exasperated pet owner told Falk, "My dog won't stop barking until the coyote living in my hedge is gone."

The coyote had made itself a cozy nest from which it could hunt and probably drive the dog nuts, Falk said. There was a depression that caught water, palm fronds for a bed, purloined toys for amusement and trophies like pet collars.

"We clipped the hedge, and sprayed it," Falk said. "Lime powder or cayenne works."

Coyotes forage alone, in pairs or in packs. They appear to communicate with one another by body language, Falk said. They are also curious.

They are not carnivorous. They will strip figs from trees; poke around discarded picnic lunches — lately they have been coming down from Diamond Crestview, through Woods Cove to hit the beach for leftovers.

"Coyotes are everywhere," Pietarila said.

They have populated Three Arch Bay, North Laguna, Top of the World and the canyons.

The worst thing people can do besides leaving pets out unaccompanied is to feed the coyotes. Don't even leave pet food out

"People think they will starve and it's hard to convince them not to put out food," Falk said. "A $2,000 fine helps."

Police do not remove coyotes unless they pose a danger to humans or refuse to leave your yard. Police can use pepper spray. Their weapon of choice for a really stubborn coyote is a colorless paint ball.

"It stings," Falk said. "If we used color, Laguna Woods would be tie-dyed."

Laguna Beach's three animal control officers also are responsible for Laguna Woods, which has been practicing hazing for about three years. They are trying to convince Laguna to adopt a first-line hazing program.

"This is a public service," Falk said. "People need to be educated."

Among those who attended the meeting: retired Fire Department Capt. Bing Boka, Mike and Lhasa Apso breeder Judy O'Dell, Krista Arellano, Kevin Kroft, Jean Miller, Betsy Reinhold and Lauren Howell, owner of Tally's sibling, Zen.

The coyote hazing guideline and appropriate responses to coyote behavior is available under Animal Services at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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