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Laguna Woods dog owners sound the alarm over coyotes

On a recent evening around 8:30, Bernice Hoffman, 85, took her Maltese dog, Sofina, to go potty near her patio on Ronda Sevilla in Laguna Woods Village. Hoffman was armed with a flashlight, an air horn, and she had the dog on a leash – a retractable one.

Still, she was caught unawares when a coyote suddenly appeared.

“The coyote came from the back of the building. The air horn did not deter it. It was total war between the coyote and myself,” she recalled.

It was a war that she lost. Hoffman, who uses a walker, said she was knocked down when Sofina pulled at her leash. She used the air horn, but no one came out to help.

Although the coyote dropped Sofina at some point, the dog’s harness released, and the coyote grabbed her again.

“In hindsight, I should have had her on a short leash,” Hoffman said.

Yet there was not much else she could do.

“We are a senior community. We don’t have the energy or the ability or speed to chase an animal. I could not save my little girl.”

Residents who walk their dogs in the Village have learned to be on the lookout for coyotes to avoid tragedies such as Hoffman’s. With concerns about coyotes growing in the Village – there have been a reported eight attacks on dogs in the past six months, five of them fatal – the Dog Club held a meeting Feb. 13 to dispel rumors and falsehoods and present facts about the beasts.

Around 50 people packed the Clubhouse 1 Art Room for a presentation by Justin Toguchi and Jim Beres, members of Animal Control for the Laguna Beach Police Department, which handles coyote issues in the Village.

The upshot of the presentation? Coyotes are here to stay; it is up to residents to use proper precautions to protect their dogs. (Cats should be kept indoors at all times, the two said.)

Village resident Debbie Accardo brought her two tiny Yorkies, Abby and Cupid, to the meeting.

“I had three encounters with coyotes, but they were just strolling around,” she said. “I have seen them in the morning, around 3 in the afternoon, and 7 at night.”

Questions about whether coyotes can be trapped and relocated, poisoned or even shot were quickly quashed.

“It’s illegal to trap them, and relocation is inhumane, a death sentence,” Toguchi said. “When they get imported into an unknown territory, they get killed. The existing alphas (male and female) know their terrain and its rules; the new ones don’t.”

Toguchi also warned that aggressive coyote population control only increases reproductive rates, with the animals producing more offspring and at a younger age. Populations can bounce back even if 70 percent are removed from an area.

Neither can coyotes be shot in California. According to state regulations, coyotes are nongame mammals. That means they can only be hunted by those licensed to hunt and in places where hunting is legal.

The Animal Control officers presented the usual common-sense approaches to dealing with coyotes in the Village.

First off, don’t feed the wildlife.

“There are actually more coyotes in urban areas now than in the wild. Why? Urban areas are full of easy food,” Toguchi said. “Laguna Woods has all the amenities – golf courses with water, dense shrubbery for dens, low lights at night.”

Toguchi noted a chain reaction that occurs in the feeding of wildlife. Food problems begin with residents filling bird feeders with seeds. The seeds fall to the ground and nourish squirrels and other rodents. These critters eat fruit from trees and often leave fallen fruit on the ground. Rabbits gnaw on the fallen fruit – which fattens them up, providing feasts for coyotes.

Unsecured trash cans and composting bins also provide food.

Dog Club Vice President David S. Cohen also emphasized the need to avoid feeding wildlife.

“If coyotes are fed in residential areas, they lose their fear of humans and might even eventually test them as possible prey,” he said.

Entries have appeared on the Nextdoor neighborhood app about “the chicken brigade,” people who are said to leave out fully-cooked chickens for the coyotes.

Both Cohen and Toguchi said that if residents see someone feeding coyotes, they should call Village Security at 949-580-1400.

Tips to prevent coyotes from hunkering down near homes include keeping bushes trimmed, moving around any lights in the yard, and having noisemakers handy, including pots and pans to bang together, Toguchi said. Also, pick up dog poop since it attracts coyotes.

Walking dogs after dark is another big no. But even in daylight, residents must stay cautious and vigilant, Toguchi said: Stash that phone, be aware of surroundings, keep the dog close and always in front of you, and use a short leash, not more than 6 feet long. Carry a stick or cane, and pick up the pet whenever a coyote appears or is suspected nearby.

Resident Sue Iglesias lost her dog, Levi, walking at 7 p.m.

“My dog pulled away and a coyote bounded to get him,” she recalled. “I fell and the dog pulled the leash out of my hand.”

Iglesias said she lives in an area with a culvert, which acts as a sort of thoroughfare for coyotes.

“I see them at 3 in the afternoon,” she said.

What to do when encountering coyotes? Humans should engage in “hazing,” meaning standing one’s ground tall, waving arms, shouting and, rather than retreating, advancing toward a coyote slowly, Toguchi said.

“Do not run away – you’ll get mistaken for prey,” he added.

While Toguchi recommends noisemakers such as air horns or a can filled with stones or coins, he advises caution with bear spray and other airborne repellents: “When the wind shifts, sprays may get you and your dog.”

Residents should report coyote incidents, or incidents of a sick or injured animal, via email at [email protected] or call the Laguna Beach Police Department at 949-497-0701.

Hoffman expressed little faith in help from Animal Control, however.

“I live near the creek. We have called Animal Control about sightings near us, but it takes hours for them to come,” she said. “I really feel that their headquarters are too far away from our community.”

Stephanie Yun, hospital manager at the Healing Hearts Emergency Animal Hospital, said the hospital has treated a couple of dogs with possible coyote bite wounds since it opened in August.

“We have had no bite casualties, no neck or chest wounds,” Yun said. The veterinarians believe that “dogs died more due to cardiac failure, from the shock and the stress of being attacked,” she added. “We highly recommend not to take a dog out early in the morning, around 5 or 6 p.m. or late at night. Those are prime hunting times.”

Village resident Linda Whelan had hoped that the Golden Rain Foundation could do something to alleviate the coyote problem. She had circulated a petition among residents to call for action.

“I got 80 signatures but will withdraw the petition because really nothing can be done,” she said after listening to the presentation.

If worse comes to worst, residents can help one another – for instance, warning others when coyotes are spotted nearby.

Recently, while I was walking my little terrier, a coyote ambled across Avenida Sevilla near Gate 4. Luckily, Quincy was sitting in his dog stroller – also a good deterrent, according to the Animal Control officers.

Still, the coyote was close enough for concern, so I flagged down a passing FedEx driver for help. Upon hearing of my predicament, the driver drove slowly beside me until the coyote had rounded a corner and headed into a park area.

Finally, there are those spiky anti-coyote vests that some Village dogs have been seen sporting. They’re available on Amazon.

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