Coyotes in Paradise—Living With the Reality
One of the delightful things about life in a rural community is our collective love of animals, both domestic and wild. It is that love that makes us vulnerable when bad things happen to these animals, and such tragedies are becoming increasingly common as “wilderness” and “civilization” collide.
In April of last year, a neighbor asked us if we’d seen their cat, who’d been missing for several days at the time. We hadn’t. Mysterious and sad as this was, when one of our cats went missing, 3½ weeks later, I absolutely didn’t make a connection.
Our neighbors were very supportive; many, upon seeing our “Missing Cat” fliers, called with encouragement, suggestions, and possible sightings.
As I made the rounds with the third revision of fliers (first just “Missing Cat”, then “Missing Cat, REWARD”, then “Missing Cat, REWARD”, much bigger) I noticed something chilling—a new “Missing Cat” flier…a third missing cat.
With the possibility of a predator, it was time to start taking our cats in at night. (No small task when you have several.) One didn’t want to come, ran and disappeared into the darkness, and was never seen again. Our “stealth predator” must have been hiding in the shadows, waiting.
I decided to call the phone number on the new “Missing Cat” flier and compare notes. The details of the disappearances—four cats from three families—were strikingly similar. All were pampered indoor-outdoor pets; they were largely timid cats, unlikely to approach a stranger; all disappeared without a trace. It had to be a wild animal predator.
As I discussed the matter with County Animal Control, one suspect rose to the top of the list—Canis latrans—coyote. (We’ll never know for sure, but certain details—such as the number of victims over a short time and in a small area—suggest coyote rather than mountain lion. Another clue: shortly before the first disappearance, a neighbor I had just met told me she’d seen a baby coyote run through our backyard.)
For 13 years, we had lived at peace with our wild animal neighbors, and this rocked my sense of security.
The consolation—if there is any—is that, compared to a car accident, dog attack, or abduction by an evil person, death by coyote is quick and, as far as we know, relatively free of suffering. Coyotes kill to eat, and they do it efficiently. Still, it is heartbreaking to lose a beloved pet, and it is our responsibility to take care of them.
So I did some research to see what we could do to protect ourselves and our pets. Unfortunately, coyotes are difficult to eradicate. Trapping and relocation are not advised, as any young coyotes orphaned by this process will seek easy prey (e.g., our pets). This is very likely what happened in my neighborhood.
The good news is that coyotes rarely attack people, and when they do, it’s not in the manner of a vicious dog, but rather a bite-and-run kind of thing. Coyotes can be frightened, if you see them. Shake a noisemaker (I keep a tea tin full of hardware by the front door) or throw things at them. Fire a SuperSoaker (high-powered toy water gun) filled with water or vinegar at them.
We rarely see them, however, as they tend to be nocturnal. The key is to eliminate all that attracts coyotes, mainly food. Coyotes are generalists, meaning they’ll eat just about anything. With that in mind:
Keep your cats and small dogs indoors at night; your medium and large dogs, too. Coyotes hunting in packs can take down a fairly big animal.
Rabbits, chickens, etc. that are kept outdoors need protection. That means strong fencing with a small enclosure inside of it where they can hide.
Don’t let your pets’ food become coyote bait. Your vet will agree that cats are best fed indoors, and dogs should be fed only what they will eat all at once, with no leftovers.
Restrict the use of birdseed. Get rid of all squirrel, deer, and other wildlife feed; any naturalist will tell you they’re a bad idea anyway, for reasons I won’t go into here.
Put garden compost in enclosed bins, and gather your ripe fruits and vegetables immediately.
Take the bells off your cats. The same bells that alert birds to your cats’ presence also betray their whereabouts to coyotes. (Once you’ve eliminated the birdseed, you’ll have fewer birds within your cats’ reach, anyway.)
Besides food, coyotes are attracted to potential partners. An unneutered male dog will be attracted to a female coyote; a male coyote will be attracted to an unspayed female dog; both scenarios spell trouble. Spay and neuter your pets.
Mothballs and ammonia around your property may repel coyotes, as will a motion-sensitive light.
Consider a fence. It will need to be at least six feet tall and extending six inches below ground. In my research I discovered something called a “roll fence,” which has—as you might have guessed—a rolling piece at the top. This design keeps your cats from climbing out, or any uninvited guests from climbing in. As they try to grasp the top bar, it rolls. The wild critters stay out, the tame ones in, and peace reigns once more.
Our best bet is to make those predators feel so unwelcome that they’ll pack up their families and move back to the boonies. Neighbors working together can accomplish this goal.