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These wild neighbors aren't knocking for sugar

Coyotes might hunt for leftover pet food in neighborhoods bordering wilderness

Posted: August 10, 2009 9:04 p.m.
Updated: August 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Coyotes, like the one seen here, roam the untamed hills throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. Unattended pets or pet food may draw coyotes into residential areas.

Newhall resident Peggy Taylor had an unexpected visit recently from some of her more unruly neighbors: three wayward coyotes came to her front door.

"They weren't making any howling noises, but I could hear their feet scratching the ground and they sounded really strong," Taylor said. "They were just running back and forth."

It was about 7 p.m. on a hot Sunday evening when the coyotes padded up to her home in Newhall's Scenic Hills area. They were no strangers to the neighborhood, which, as its name suggests, borders untamed hills.

Many of the Santa Clarita Valley's homes border the wilderness, offering a buffet of lush green lawns, water and unattended pet food for hungry critters like rabbits - and the coyotes that prey upon them.

"Things that are drawing coyotes to our homes, backyards, and commercial entities are the simple requirements in nature: food, water, and shelter," said Frank Hoffman, Placerita Canyon Nature Center's acting regional park attendant.

The wild canines are usually spotted in the evening hours, but they sometimes roam residential areas in broad daylight.

Coyotes are opportunistic beasts that tend to stick to small, weak or dead prey but will eat just about anything, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site. Pets or pet food, for instance, may be on their menu, while adult humans are not.

"I have heard of several very isolated incidents of coyotes attacking small children. I've never personally seen it," Hoffman said.

"Usually there is a special reason: rabid animals, desperation for food, or because people have fed them in the past."

Feeding wild animals, he said, makes them lose their natural - and healthy - fear of people.

Adults who feel threatened by coyotes shouldn't panic or run, Hoffman said. Instead, they should stand their ground.

"This physically suggests to the coyote that you mean business," he said. "Grab your little people, or people that might want to run; certainly bring in dogs and cats, anything that you feel might be threatened, and don't throw food at it."

"Lastly, appreciate that you have the opportunity to view a wild animal."

However, some Santa Clarita Valley residents find it difficult to muster that level of appreciation.

The California Department of Fish and Game handles routine coyote calls, officials said. But in the case of an attack or another emergency, residents should call 911.

"If it is an aggressive coyote and they feel at risk they should call 911 first," said Carol Singleton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Fish and Game. "If there are attacks on a person, which are very rare, we come out and do investigations and necropsies to see if the animals have rabies."

Officials with the Castaic Animal Shelter said they won't come out and trap coyotes, as they only handle domestic animals.

And as the weather gets hotter and drier and more developments encroach on the wilderness, Santa Clarita Valley residents like Taylor might have to get used to guarding against their fanged, furry neighbors.

"There are small pets right next door and there are dogs all over the place. It's more of an older community, but I do see grandchildren on the weekend," she said.

"I'm sure the coyotes will attack them - they look thin and hungry," Taylor said. "When you see three right outside your window, that's kind of scary."


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