Coyote encounters too close for some La Cañada residents, pet owners

Bessie, a terrier mix belonging to La Cañada Flintridge resident Jessica Cushman, was dripping with blood after a June 25 coyote attack the vet said she was lucky to have survived. While coyote sightings are normal, Cushman says the animals seem more aggressive.
(Courtesy of Jessica Cushman)

For Jessica Cushman, who lives in La Cañada’s Paradise Canyon neighborhood, coyotes are hardly a new phenomenon. Seeing a solitary pup during an evening walk or hearing distant chatter are among the perks of living near the Angeles National Forest.

“When I first came here [about 10 years ago] we’d come home at night and once and a while there would be one in the street,” she said, recalling occasional sightings as beautiful glimpses of nature.

But as years wore on coyote encounters became more frequent. Two years ago her then-2-year-old terrier mix, Bessie, heard a ruckus outside near the neighbor’s chicken coop and jumped through an open window before she could be corralled. She later returned licking what looked like puncture wounds left by a set of teeth.

“That was before they started getting in the backyard,” Cushman said.


Bessie, seen here with Tessa Schulz, is a 4-year-old terrier mix who’s already had two significant encounters with coyotes at the La Canada Flintridge home of Jessica Cushman. The most recent encounter in June required hospitalization, Cushman says.
(Courtesy of Jessica Cushman)

One night in late June, again lured by the sound of chickens and barking outside, Bessie slipped through a crack in the door while Cushman’s husband was securing the house and bounded into the backyard. The sounds of a struggle alerted family members, who ran outside to check on their beloved pet.

“She was just dripping with blood,” Cushman recalled of the 12-pound terrier. “So we wrapped her in a towel and took her to the ER. They told us it was really rare to see this level of injury and for her to have survived it.”

The coyote, which easily scaled a 7-foot fence, had fractured Bessie’s vertebrae, requiring 50 stitches and a wound drain. Cushman and her family were devastated. They’d done what they could to protect their home from coyotes — keeping Bessie inside or leashed at all times and trying to stay mindful of open windows — but nothing seemed to make a difference.


“It just feels like we’re under surveillance and we’ve got an enemy in the bushes,” she said. “It’s a terrible feeling — what the heck are we supposed to be doing?”

Cushman is one of several residents who’ve shared tales of too-close coyote encounters in La Cañada on community social media groups. The consensus is that once-skittish coyotes seem to be encroaching upon homesteads and attacking pets, even in the presence of their human owners.

Coyote safety workshops held by the Pasadena Humane Society immediately fill up as La Cañada residents report increased sightings of coyotes and aggressive attacks on pets.
(File Photo)

The Pasadena Humane Society recently offered three “coyote safety workshops,” which filled up instantly weeks in advance. Led by wildlife manger Lauren Hamlett, the classes are intended to help people understand how coyotes behave, live and hunt.

“Seeing a coyote roaming the street is pretty normal. And it’s normal for them to go after pets,” Hamlett said. “But if you’re within a 6-foot leash radius and a coyote is going after your pet, that’s abnormal.”

Coyotes mate between January and March, then den their pups from April to August until the young are old enough to join in on foraging and hunting. Hamlett advises dog walkers to use non-retractable leashes and keep their pets close.

Hazing approaching coyotes with a noisemaker, like an air horn, whistle or metal can with coins in it, may help maintain distance.

“We have to reinforce the hierarchy of whose neighborhood it really is,” she said. “It’s really important if coyotes aren’t responding to basic hazing to up our game.”


Hamlett suggests concerned residents approach city leaders about adopting a wildlife management plan that sets short-term objectives and longer range goals for restoring habitats, reducing harm and managing species, in part, by educating citizens on how to make yards and homes less attractive to coyotes.

Vicky Monroe, a human-wildlife conflict programs coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, agrees human habitation plays a role in increased coyote sightings.

“The increase in reported sightings doesn’t necessarily translate to an actual increase in population,” Monroe said. “Coyotes, in response to the increase of human presence and human attractants, are being habituated or desensitized to humans.”

The everyday presence of bird feeders, pet and animal food, trash and pet doors entice the predators more than occasional hazing efforts scare them away. Knowing what draws coyotes is important to keeping them at bay, Monroe said.

“We want to empower people to have an understanding and awareness of wildlife and figure out a way for them and wildlife to coexist safety,” she added.


Pasadena Humane Society Wildlife Department- (626) 792-7151, ext. 110 ;

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Incident Reporting:

CDFW online wildlife portal:


UC Irvine Cooperative Extension “Coyote Cacher,” survey and encounter maps: