Commentary: Become aware of urban coyotes

"You see, things were not always this way, recalled Kathy Anderson, a retired teacher and lifetime resident of Costa Mesa. "You could hear them in the distance, but never, ever, did they encroach upon our town. They were truly wild."

Fast forward several decades later, and they roam our streets at night and hang out in our yards.

Everyone knows they exist. Most of us are unaware of how many there are. Some of us know of them only through a cartoon character. And, unfortunately, too many of us become aware of the problem when it is already too late.

I am talking about coyotes. After two days of intensive care, Lucky, my 20-pound dog, passed on as a result of his encounter with a coyote in my backyard in Costa Mesa.

Since then, I have become curious about these highly adaptable creatures and have been determined to find out if I was the only one who didn't know that they will jump or dig their way into our yards, kill our dogs and eat our cats. It was during this process that I met Anderson and many others with similar concerns.

As I conducted a survey on 85 houses within our community, collecting stories and testimonials, I found that nearly all respondents have or have had pets in the past. Sixty-eight percent of them had experienced the loss of one or several pets to coyotes (33% personally, 35% through a friend or relative, and 21% through both).

There were stories like the one about a 38-pound dog named Missy, who just barely survived a coyote attack and there were reports of coyotes snatching dogs off owners leashes on Irvine Avenue and 17th Street while on a walk in broad daylight. Then there was the testimony of a neighbor who told me that a coyote holding the family cat's body charged at her husband after he chased it down the street.

These anecdotes suggest that coyotes have become too comfortable in our communities and are not afraid of approaching humans anymore. But, surprisingly, more than half of the people I interviewed were not aware of the danger that coyotes can be to pets, and almost nobody knew that they had attacked children.

On one hand, coyotes play an important part in our ecosystem by keeping the rodent population under control. And it was shown that killing them results in a rebound, causing their numbers to increase. But on the other hand, a UC Davis study shows that coyote behaviors follow predictable patterns, and that when coyotes start to attack pets and are seen in the morning and in the late afternoons, attacks on humans are only a matter of time.

I believe that is crucial for all of us to take the initiative in minimizing their danger. To that end, I created the Lucky Project, which is dedicated to taking actions to prevent future coyote attacks upon people and pets. Here are some suggestions:

1.) Keep people reminded of coyotes with signs. For instance, veterinarians should have coyote safety tips in their waiting rooms.

2.) Local shelters should provide customers with a coyote-awareness pamphlet.

3.) New residents should be given a courtesy notice about the presence of coyotes.

4.) Educate kids on urban coyotes so that they can pass the word to their families, and more importantly, stay safe themselves.

I asked various officials for their perspectives on the topic.

"[Newport-Mesa Unified School District] is very appreciative of Christy's outreach efforts to raise awareness and inform students and their families," according to spokeswoman Laura Boss.

Efforts to catch the majority of the Costa Mesa population are still under way, as signs are being reviewed and waiting patiently for all approvals.

"It is extremely important for residents and school staff to stay informed and educated about the impact of coyotes in our community, how to keep your homes and schools safe, and what to avoid that encourages coyotes to venture closer," said school Trustee Katrina Foley. "I know that our custodial staff is working closely with our principals to monitor schools sites adjacent to flood channels or open park areas to keep kids safe. We recently had a coyote in our own backyard. That opening under the fence is now under repair!"

The experts also had good tips.

The Lucky Project urges residents to report any coyote sightings or any related incidents to 1-855-7-COYOTE.

Anna Rodriguez, a highly dedicated and skilled animal control officer who helps residents stay informed, added, "However, for any emergency related incident please contact the animal control officers at the Costa Mesa Police Department."

People need to stay up to date on vaccinations and keep leashes shorter than 6 feet.

Protecting the future of Costa Mesa and its residents should be highlighted in every aspect and taken seriously, just as City Councilwoman Wendy Leece has pointed out.

"I am sorry for Christy's loss of her little dog, Lucky, but glad she's motivated to use this unfortunate experience as an opportunity to bring awareness to Costa Mesa residents about the coyotes in our neighborhoods," Leece said. "I always appreciate our residents getting involved and helping us solves problems."

CHRISTY ROGET, who launched the Lucky Project to raise coyote-awareness, lives on Costa Mesa.

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