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Coyote Attacks: Is LA Animal Services Helping or Hurting Public Safety?

ANIMAL WATCH-An ‘urban’ coyote explosion has hit the city of Los Angeles, with unprecedented sightings in business and residential areas, apartment complexes, shopping malls, and increasing threats to pets and people. 

“Coexisting” with humans--their primary historical predator--has apparently not civilized the coyote, but emboldened it to approach mothers walking with small children, rip small dogs from leashes in daytime hours, and chase targeted victims—dogs and cats—through pet doors. 

On September 29, KTLA reported the mauling of a 3-year-old girl by a coyote in Elysian Park, near downtown Los Angeles. No report was made by LA Animal Services.  

The information was provided by Lt. J.C. Healy of CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, who said the attack took place over a week before at approximately 5:00 p.m. while the child was with her family at a playground in the park. The child’s father saw a pack of four coyotes approaching her. One bit the girl on her neck, leaving puncture wounds and scratches that hospitalized her. 

The DNA taken from the child’s wounds proved the attack was by a coyote; but the offending animal has not been located, according to LAist.  An adult male also claimed he was bitten by a coyote in Elysian Park last month.  

Four children have been attacked in Irvine within three months, ABC7 News reported on July 9. The first occurred on May 22 leaving cuts on the neck of a 3-year-old girl. The latest was a 2-year-old who was inside a garage. Lt. Kent Smirl of Fish and Wildlife told reporters that, “[T]he coyote came in and actually got the child on the neck area and part of the cheek.”  Nine coyotes were trapped and euthanized in connection with the attacks, said Capt. Rebecca Hartman. 

Officials have consistently warned people not to feed wildlife, to pick up fallen fruit, and to keep any trash bins locked. But even residents complying with the rules have had pets snatched from porches and large dogs killed inside fenced yards or lured by a single coyote into a chase which leads them into an attacking pack. 

This is not just because of drought or declining food sources as development intrudes into rural areas, experts say. Since the 1993 ban on trapping in LA, generations of coyotes, which are nomadic carnivores closely related to wolves and dogs, have traveled along connecting freeway embankments and through stretches of parkland bordering residential dwellings, systematically adapting to the city environment. Their pups have been born and raised among or close to humans, formerly a natural enemy which controlled their numbers and behavior by lethal means. 

Coyotes have increased so rapidly in the Hollywood Dell, Griffith Park/Los Feliz areas that the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council held a community meeting on June 22 at Fire Station 82 on Bronson Ave. The purpose was to hear about “keeping your human and pet family members safe.” Approximately 150 concerned, fearful and grieving residents filled the room. 

General Manager Brenda Barnette attended and heard residents who have lived peacefully with wildlife for up to 30 years tell how suddenly their pets are being killed by coyotes and they fear for their children’s and their own safety. Barnette promised a follow-up meeting to address their concerns. 

On August 4, Animal Services Officer Hoang Dinh sent out an e-mail announcing a second meeting on August 5, and apologizing for the lateness in notification. It was addressed only to one community leader, with no indication it went to the Neighborhood Council. She responded, asking about one-day notice and stating, “There is now no way for me to ‘ring the bell’ and get folks to this meeting.” Five people attended. 

GM Barnette was not there, and Officer Dinh did not have any specific response to the community’s concerns. The meeting was conducted by Fish and Wildlife representatives, explaining a coyote-awareness plan patterned after “Neighborhood Watch” programs. 

A final meeting at Station 82 was attempted on September 16. Only three members of the public (notified by Fish and Wildlife) attended. None received any communication from the City. Officer Dinh announced he would not plan any more community meetings in this area unless the residents requested it. 

Fish and Wildlife reports that the San Pedro Neighborhood Councils are becoming involved in “Coyote Watch,” and they will continue to work with any community that wants to learn about their program. 

COYOTES AND FERAL CATS 

Brenda Barnette issued a list of tips on ‘How to Co-exist with Coyotes,” stating, “Do not feed Wildlife, even indirectly…Remember, keeping pets and pet food inside is the best way to keep coyotes out of your yard.” 

Yet, from  2013 to Sept. 2, 2015, GM Barnette and Councilman Paul Koretz have tried to pass an ordinance that would allow up to 20 cats in backyards in a “clowder,” defined as a “completely contained” area with “…space, sunshine and fresh air.” In other words, outdoor kennels in residential areas, where the cats and their food could attract coyotes. They “smell a meal a mile away,” wildlife experts say. 

Also, Barnette and Koretz are trying vigorously to set aside a court-ordered injunction obtained by the Urban Wildlands Group, prohibiting the City from using taxpayers’ funds for “Trap/Neuter/Return-Relocate” programs, which endanger birds and other wildlife. TNR is spaying/neutering feral cats and releasing them in colonies on the streets, with “feeders” providing food daily at outdoor locations. 

TNR is legal if done with private funds. LA Feeders website describes the organization as “350 volunteers serving 8000 meals every day to community cats in Southern California.” 

The Feral Cat Caretakers’ Coalition website states, “The Department of Animal Services estimates there are 3 million feral cats and kittens in the Los Angeles area alone.” 

George Fenwick, president of ABC called TNR programs “well-meaning but misguided,” adding that releasing neutered feral cats was “providing an all-you-can-eat buffet for coyotes.” 

The Journal of Wildlife Management published a study of coyotes living in residential areas of Tucson, AZ, and discovered from analyzing the coyote’s scat that cats made up 42 percent of their diet. It also determined that “in confrontations between cats and coyotes, cats were killed more than half the time,” according to the Christian Science Monitor article, “Outdoor Cats are Easy Prey for Coyotes.” 

Even after the LAAS coyote meetings and letters of opposition, Barnette and Koretz still want cat limits increased to five per property without mandatory identification; i.e., microchipping and licensing, to promote owner responsibility. 

COYOTE ATTACKS ON HUMANS 

A study by Baker and Timm (first presented in 2004 at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference and then updated in 2013), documents 128 attacks by coyotes on humans between 1977 and 2013, mainly in Southern California—excluding attacks by coyotes with rabies. The study claims that coyotes in and near urban areas are losing their fear of humans and becoming aggressive. 

Southern Californians, according to Timm, “have provided them an environment rich in food resources, and sometimes fed them, perhaps out of a developing ‘Disney mentality’ toward wildlife.” (Baker and Timm 1998,Timm et al. 2004

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WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT COYOTES? 

LA Animal Services website states, “The City of Los Angeles does not own or have any control of wild animals found within its boundaries, nor is the city responsible for the actions or damage caused by them. There are no laws, policies or mandates requiring the department to remove native wildlife.” The Department of Fish and Wildlife responds to attacks on humans. 

In case of emergency, residents are advised to call 911, which means LAPD or L.A. Fire Department will respond. A Valley Senior Lead Officer said they have no specialized training in handling a call for a coyote or pack of coyotes involved in an attack. 

Some people believe that feeding coyotes will cause them to stop attacks; however, experts agree the more accustomed a coyote becomes to humans as a provider of food, the more aggressive and demanding they become. 

In September 2014, before implementing a two-week coyote-trapping program, Seal Beach Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos told the Los Angeles News Group , “Coyotes are coming closer to residences. We had (one) that entered a home, grabbed the dog and killed it.” 

An animal-advocate responded, “We live in their neighborhood; they came first... you manage the animals.” Another contended that, “The coyotes are not predators, they are scavengers and they do not stalk people...” 

No matter how idealistic we are or how enamored of wildlife, understanding the inherent dangers and acknowledging the natural behavior of any predatory species is the only way to develop a “co-existence” status that does not result in continual tragedy for all. 

The question that residents and elected officials need to decide is whether the policies and actions of LA Animal Services' Brenda Barnette are helping or hurting public safety?

 

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributing writer CityWatch and opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.)

 –cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 82

Pub: Oct 9, 2015