Addessing the misconceptions of coyots in our neighorhoods

Renee Grayson
https://www.flickr.com/photos/132295270@N07

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By Charlotte Sanchez-Kosa

Concerns from residents over the apparent mutilation of cats in the Arden area of Sacramento have led to meetings with wildlife officials and the district attorney’s office in an effort to find out just what exactly is going on.

According to posts on NextDoor, the social networking site for neighborhoods, several area pet cats have gone missing only to be found mutilated and in some cases beheaded. Others have found only the tails of cats on their lawns.

Pet owners are alarmed and some think the deaths could be caused by someone in the area, however, recent sightings of coyotes may be the answer to what has been going on.

Philip Hollenbach, who lives off of Jonas Avenue, has had his own run-ins with coyotes on his property. Hollenbach, who lives in a gated community of about 11 homes, said coyotes at times have appeared on a nightly basis.

“I happen to live on the largest property in the neighborhood,” he said. “The creek kinda comes onto the road in front of my house and it goes under this bridge and then comes out on my property and follows along the side of my property.”

Hollenbach said he and his family have been living in the home for about a year and soon after they moved in, they would leave their sliding windows open with just the screen. Every night between midnight and 4 a.m., the family dog, a Rhodesian Ridge Back, would start barking.

“I’d end up shining a flashlight from our upstairs balcony into the yard area and I would usually pick up anywhere from one to three sets of eyes,” he said. “Eventually they’d move out and I wouldn’t see them in the daylight.”

Philip Hollenbach saw some coyote pups playing in his backyard. At night he can hear the coyotes walk on top of the tarp.

He’s also seen them playing in his yard and said that they seemed to keep pretty much to themselves and were not to much of a problem. He added the sightings tapered off, but in May, the family started to hear and see them again and it was while taking care of a neighbor’s small dog that Hollenbach had an encounter he will never forget.

“I let my dog and the little dog out at about 6:15 a.m.,” he said. “I believe it was at the very end of May or the beginning of June. I let the dogs out. They had their food and I was in the kitchen making my wife a sandwich before she went to work, and all of a sudden, I heard a commotion out in the yard.”

Hollenbach said he ran out and there were two large coyotes. His dog ran back to where he was standing but a coyote was biting the little dog on the back. They backed off when they saw Hollanbach but went to the back of he property and stood watching him.

He also said that his neighbor has three dogs that are fenced in and two are small and bark. The coyotes started running along the fence line trying to figure out how to get to the two barking dogs.

“I was watching and they started trying to dig under the fence to try and get to them,” he said. “I went over and chased them away.”

Hollenbach said the activity continued, and later in the day, one of the coyotes sat in the middle of his property as if waiting for something.
“At some point we left our house and when we came back, we found that the screen door on our patio had actually been pulled off,” he said. “The sliders were locked. You can tell that it wasn’t a burglar because the sliding door wasn’t locked and you could slide it open. The screen door was actually pulled off. I’m guessing a coyote came up around here and the little dog started barking and they were trying to get into my house. So I had to have my screen replaced.”

Coyote sightings in the area have been taking place for many years. Although the area is chock-full of houses and is a couple of miles from the American River, the land was originally fields and river bottom.

Guy Galante, Intercinnection Mentor with Project Coyote, said in the last couple of years coyote sightings in urban areas in Sacramento have raised the concerns of residents about safety and the safety of pets.

“Mainly the issue that seems to arise with the coyotes in the neighborhoods is that are taking pet cats and killing them,” he said. “So that obliviously is a cause for concern among the pet owners and the neighbors.”

He added he feels there is a general misconception about coyotes that happens when they are seen wandering down the street. The public’s level of fear rises.

“So what I’ve observed during personal communications and on social media is that people are reacting versus responding to the situation, and there’s a lot of misinformation going around,” he said.

Galante, a Carmichael resident, works with Project Coyote, which is based in Mill Valley. Project Coyote has a program called Coyote Friendly Communities that teaches the public basic coyote ecology and understanding of why coyotes are entering residential areas. The group also teaches the public how to deal with them humanely.

Galante said the program suggestions won’t work overnight but they do help with the situation and it takes the community as a whole to implement the strategy.

Philip Hollenbach stands on the bridge near his home and points out the creek that he believes the coyotes follow to his property.

“What we need to do is get entire communities together to be speaking the same language of using terminology of how to talk about and respond to coyotes,” he said. “Everyone needs to be on the same page to gradually, over time, get the coyotes to move on. Now the question is, ‘Where will they go?’ So, that’s why we need community by community to do this. Basically what people want in Sacramento County, particularly those who live near American River Parkway and some of the creek corridors, is they want the coyotes to stay in that tight little box. But there are other pressures happening in our parks that are essentially forcing the coyotes out into urban and suburban areas where food is abundant.”

He added people want agencies to deal with the issue but what really needs to happen is people need to work together to take action and audit their own homes and understand that the way they live in communities is actually creating the problem. If someone has a fruit tree that’s dropping fruit, it’s attracting rodents, coyotes eat rodents, coyotes also eat the fruit. If someone has a bird feeder, that brings squirrels and birds and coyotes eat those too.

“We’re actually creating a pretty healthy food and water source in neighborhoods which are easy for coyotes to get,” Galante said. “That’s why they are getting really comfortable coming into neighborhoods. That’s why I’m working on this. There is not one central agency in Sacramento County that says, ‘Here’s the problem and here’s how to deal with it.’”

He added, when people have a problem, they really don’t know who to call.

“Wildlife services in California, Fish and Wildlife, will only respond to calls if there is a human, coyote conflict. They will not respond to the loss of a pet,” Galante said. “So people feel that they aren’t getting any help and what I’m saying is, ‘Here’s how you can help yourself. You can be part of the solution.’”

Philip Hollenbach stands on the bridge near his home and points out the creek that he believes the coyotes follow to his property.

Peter Tira of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife echoed Galante’s statement.

“Coyotes are managed locally by local governments,” Tira said. “We provide governments with education. We have resources on our Website. Our roll is really education. We do provide local agencies with maximum flexibility in terms of managing their coyote populations. Coyotes have very little protections under state law. Where we see the most success is where communities get together and develop a good strategy. They don’t represent a public safety threat at all. We want to keep those animals in the wild. We want to keep them doing their job eating all the rodents and keeping those populations down.”

He added if a coyote bites a human, Fish and Wildlife will become involved.

Galante sees increasing development in Natomas, El Dorado, Folsom and other areas as a reason why coyote sightings are more numerous. Add to that, people are utilizing parks and trails more.

He suggests that residents be more aware of the situation and take preventative measures that include not leaving pet food bowls outside, pick up dropped food, don’t over water lawns because that water that runs down the gutter is an easy water source for coyotes. He also said to put small pets in at night and check to see is you have anything in your yard that would be attractive to wildlife.

“People need to look at their home first to see what they are doing that might be contributing to the problem and then look around their neighborhoods to see if that’s happening too,” he said. “They need to understand what is the closest water source-a natural waterway. Whether its a controlled irrigation canal or a creek-just to get a better knowledge of the place. They have to understand that they live in a very bio rich area.”

He added that education is the key and emphasized that everyone has to work together.

“What I’ve learned through research is coyotes perceive cats as competition so when a coyote is in the neighborhood, they are not going in to find cats, they are going in to find all the easy foods,” he said. “There are other things that kill cats. Hopefully not some deranged human but people do do that. Depending on the size of the cat, there are raptors, great horned owls that can take cats and sometimes a cat may have been hit by a car. What people see is that a coyote may be carrying the carcass off and they assume the coyote killed the cat when coyotes eat dead things too.”
For more information on what you can do to help with the coyote issue, visit http://www.projectcoyote.org/ or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Living-with-Wildlife

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