Intersections: A history of living with wild neighbors

A fridge-raiding, meatball-eating, orange-picking bear is on the loose. He's hungry, evasive and still around, even after a city official politely declared on a nightly news broadcast last week that the the city would “rather he went somewhere else.”

Clocking in at more than 200 pounds, the black bear in search of a balanced diet might have been a big news generatorbut for longtime residents like Carole Dougherty, it's nothing that unusual. A founding member of the Glendale Historical Society who has lived in the area for 40 years, she said she spotted a bobcat on her upper terrace a month ago, which proceeded to press its paws against her French doors and look inside the house.

Last December, a mountain lion made an exciting appearance in her yard. A decade before, her husband found a rattlesnake in their bedroom.

A look into Glendale News-Press and Los Angeles Times archives at Glendale Central Library's Special Collections Archives reveals over a century of animal encounters in the city’s history — as far back as the 1880s, when a number of ostriches escaped from a railroad car near the Burbank city line, and were later transferred to Griffith Ranch. The rogue birds served as the inspiration for the Cawston Ostrich Farm in nearby South Pasadena, the first of its kind in America.

In the early 1900s, Glendale was home to the third largest number of pigeon lofts in the country, with a record 9,000 birds. Lest you think Jewel City pigeons were ordinary, by 1928, some had won several prizes and awards in homing-pigeon races that spanned several hundred miles.

In the ‘50s, mountain lions emerged, with residents complaining about the “roars of a mountain lion” that had been spotted three times in 1956. Deer also began venturing down, eating ivy in fenced yards and “quenching their thirst from lawn sprinklers.”

Decades later, new chemicals were being used to curb deer invasions that residents asserted cost hundreds of dollars in flowers and foliage.

The ‘80s brought with it a menagerie of animal tales, including the time a 60-pound pet monkey got loose and “terrorized diners at a Glendale restaurant,” swooping down on customers as they tried to open the door to leave, according to a 1981 Daily News article. Other incidents include the discovery of two Oriental fruit flies that caused a 10-square-mile area to be fumigated, and the discovery of bubonic plague-carrying squirrels in nearby Griffith Park and Angeles Forest.

But coyote hysteria emerged after 3-year-old Kelly Lynn Keen unfortunately became the first recorded victim of a fatal coyote attack in the U.S.

“The coyote is no longer a little animal,” declared Supervisor Kenneth Hahn during a meeting at the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. “It's a fierce animal that will destroy humans.”

The Times ran a story with the headline, “Coyote's Truce With Man Broken.”

A “Do's and Dont's For Co-Existing With The Coyote” pamphlet was even distributed to Glendale residents. For the record, the coyotes are still around, having taken refuge in an abandoned house last year.

For those looking to take up residence in the foothills in a bid to escape the city, coexisting with all nature has to offer is just a part of living here, especially as housing developments keep expanding, says Martine Colette, founder of Wildlife Waystation, a nonprofit animal sanctuary for wild and exotic animals on Little Tujunga Canyon Road.

“We are encroaching further and further into wild territories,” she said. “They’re not looking to have communication with us, because we have spread ourselves out so far into their territory, they have had to learn how to adjust living within close proximity to us, because we are everywhere.”

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic.

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