By CAROL THOMPSON
Special to the Signal Tribune
There is fear festering on the streets of Los Cerritos and Virginia Country Club, and some residents are arming themselves for protection. “Neither children nor pets are safe…We are under attack,” says Harry Pope, who is cautioning neighbors to “take a stick or other ‘weapon’ along when you walk your pets or if you run alone near dawn or dusk.”
The menace to which Pope is referring is what he believes to be a wild dog or coyote mix– and what others are equally certain is a coyote– that entered Pope’s yard on La Linda Drive on the morning of October 16 and attacked one of his cats, shattering its shoulder with its grip, before the cat managed to escape up a tree. The cat was treated at Bixby Animal Hospital and is recovering, but Pope and his neighbors fear this is simply the first confirmed attack. Since then, there have been numerous sightings of the animal by residents throughout the neighborhood. It has entered fenced yards and frightened dog-walkers with aggressive approaches, deterred by active defense and its innate hesitation to approach people.
According to Pope, several nights after his cat was attacked, the animal entered a neighbor’s yard and attempted to get at two young puppies in a fenced pen but was scared away by the owners. La Linda Drive residents reported several more instances over the next few early mornings and evenings. The most recent sighting, says Pope, was on Bixby Road on Nov. 11, around 7 p.m. The animal aggressively approached a neighbor walking his small dog. The man, Lerry Del Rosario, threw a coffee cup at it to chase it away. It also reportedly went after another neighbor’s leashed dog earlier that same evening, deterred by the owner’s aggressive posturing.
Most of the residents have described the animal as a large coyote, but Pope is certain that it is something other than a regular coyote. “I have never seen a coyote this large. It looks more like a German shepherd, but with longer legs and snout and a bushier tail. ”
Still, other residents remain certain the animal is a coyote, whose most distinguishing characteristic is its brazen behavior rather than its size. Bob Denham, who lives on Country Club Drive has seen the animal five or six times over the past two weeks. “It is absolutely, 100 percent coyote,” he insists, confirming that it is about the size of a small German shepherd, and that it is in good condition. “It is not mangy looking,” says Denham, “like the coyotes I see at El Dorado Park golf course.”
Another Los Cerritos resident, Mike Kowal, commented that it is not unusual to see coyotes in the Los Cerritos/Virginia Country Club neighborhood, where they have a history of being a perceived nuisance. While he has not seen the one causing current concern, he is aware of the rise in the number of sightings and says many neighbors are familiar with this particular animal, as it seems to be displaying unusual behavior.
“Coyotes are usually sighted in the early morning heading back toward the riverbed,” says Denham, “but this one is different.” Denham has watched this one jumping over fences, going into yards, and trotting down Country Club Drive in the middle of the afternoon. “Just the other day, around 2:30 in the afternoon, it went into my neighbor’s front yard, and onto the porch where it peered into the front door, which was open while craftsmen were working.” Fortunately, it got spooked and ran across the lawn and back into the neighborhood, rather than toward the riverbed. “The thing about this one,” added Denham, “is it will stop and stare at you as if it is staring you down. It is a bit spooky.”
Pope and his neighbors have reported the incidents to Long Beach Animal Control, but in doing so, have come up against the delicate balance of urban wildlife co-existence. As unpleasant as it is, a coyote attacking an unattended pet is considered typical coyote behavior and it is the pet owner who must alter behavior, namely, keeping pets indoors or otherwise secured from natural predators.
Whether or not this animal is a coyote or coyote hybrid, as Pope insists, it begs the question: At what point does wildlife preying on pets and aggressively approaching leashed small dogs become a threat to public safety?
According to Long Beach Animal Care Services Lieutenant Michelle Quigley, the animal that has been described in reports is consistent with the traits of a well-fed coyote. However, she agrees that some of its behavior is unusual and could pose a threat to public safety. “We do not trap coyotes that are exhibiting typical behavior. We do respond when the totality of sightings and description of unusual behavior lead us to believe a coyote has become a threat to public safety, which appears to be the case in this instance.”
In response, she has assigned animal control officers to begin patrolling the neighborhood on the lookout for the coyote, and a sergeant will be assessing the area for placement of a trap. However, Quigley cautions that “it is very difficult to trap coyotes, which are known for their cunning intelligence.”
When Animal Care Services is successful in capturing the coyote, they will assess its health and contact the California Department of Fish and Game for determination of whether the animal can be released in a suitable environment, placed in a rehabilitation sanctuary or euthanized. Contrary to concerns of some residents who are familiar with the California Code of Regulations, which mandates that protected wildlife be released within the area it was trapped, Quigley said, “An animal that poses a threat to public safety will not be released back into a neighborhood under any circumstance.”
Quigley is urging residents to call Animal Care Services immediately upon sighting the coyote so that they may rapidly deploy an animal control officer. She also requests any residents who have not reported a recent sighting of this coyote, or any others in the neighborhood, to complete a coyote-sighting report (available online at the website www.long
beach.gov/acs/wildlife) to assist in overall assessment of the coyote population in this neighborhood.
In general, the City of Long Beach encourages coexistence by practicing deterrence. “Be mindful at dawn, dusk and evening. Do not leave small animals unattended and do not leave pet food outside,” advises Quigley. “Coyotes thrive where there is food, water and shelter, so we urge residents to remove these temptations.”
As far as what residents are legally able to do to protect themselves from an animal that threatens their pets’ safety, Quigley offers the following advice:
“First thing to do is to make yourself as big as possible, make a lot of noise. Throw things toward the animal– your goal is to threaten it, not hurt it. You may walk with a stick for protection. Hit it, kick it, but do not attempt anything that could endanger you.”
Coyotes are protected wildlife and it is illegal to intentionally kill them. Call 911 if there is an attack in progress.
Do not call 911 if you simply want to report a sighting. Upon sighting, residents are urged to call Animal Care Services immediately at (562) 570-7387. Residents should program the number into cell phones and carry it with them.