Garden Grove residents showed up in force Wednesday to a special City Council meeting, voicing concerns about a rising number of coyotes in the city’s western neighborhoods.
“These coyotes have been killing our dogs and cats for a good number of years, and many of us, quite frankly, are sick and tired of it,” said resident Larry Tupa, adding that a coyote tried to attack his dog while on a walk. “One of these days, folks, it just might eat my granddaughter or yours.”
Others urged the council not to kill them.
“I don’t like the idea of trapping them and shooting them. I don’t think that’s humane,” said Patty Van Sandt, adding that she recently lost three cats to coyotes.
The council ultimately voted 3-2 to hire a professional trapper to catch and euthanize the coyotes. Councilmen Steve Jones and Chris Phan dissented, saying they’d prefer a more humane approach.
Phan said he was “torn about one life for another,” adding that it was his “biggest stumbling block.”
Jones said he wanted to see a more comprehensive solution than simply killing the coyotes.
A majority of council members, meanwhile, felt it was the right way to proceed.
“There is an issue out there, and we have to do what we can as a city,” said Councilman Kris Beard.
He was joined by Mayor Bruce Broadwater and Councilwoman Dina Nguyen, who suggested the city send out educational pamphlets on the issue to accompany water bills.
City staff estimated the trapper will cost less than $5,000.
Many residents, including Councilman Jones, attributed a jump in urbanized coyotes to construction on the 22 and 405 freeways.
“It’s directly related” to heavy construction on widening the freeways, said Jones, which has “displaced the natural habitat for these animals, … and I think that they’ve taken to the flood control channels.”
Jones is also a board member at the Orange County Transportation Authority or OCTA.
He said the issue requires a multi-agency solution, including Caltrans, OCTA and the Orange County Flood Control District.
One resident suggested that Caltrans and OCTA bear the cost of removing the coyotes.
“It wasn’t until that construction project began. I mean the neighborhood is just flooded with them,” said Mike O’Connell.
The mayor replied that it would be a long shot.
“You’re not going to get a dime from them for anything,” said Mayor Bruce Broadwater.
Coyote attacks on people are extremely rare, staff said, citing an average of 12 coyote bites reported each year nationwide, versus 4.7 million dog bites.
But they do happen.
Just this summer, a two year-old girl was attacked by a coyote at a Cypress cemetery, biting and dragging her toward bushes. The girl recovered from a leg wound.
When it comes to pets, however, the city has counted 19 killed and 6 injured by coyotes since March.
Residents pointed to those cases as evidence of a public safety hazard that needs to be addressed.
A couple years ago, O’Connell said he went in his backyard and found his cat’s tail and skull.
“The rest of it was gone,” he said.
His next door neighbor’s dog too was attacked, O’Connell added, leading to a $1,600 veterinary bill.
“Two weeks later a coyote came back and finished the job,” he said.
Residents have been logging on to Facebook to share their coyote horror stories, including pets that have been killed and close encounters.
Meanwhile, west Garden Grove resident Jessica Flicker said the concentration of reports on Facebook makes the problem seem more serious than it really is.
“You’re more aware of everything now. But killing or trapping or disposing of these coyotes is not right,” said Flicker, adding that her mother-in-law has run into coyotes for her entire 60 years living in the city. “It’s just not right. It’s inhumane,” she said.
Van Sandt suggested putting up fencing to block coyotes from coming through pipes into the neighborhoods.
“If that’s how they’re coming down here from way out there, let’s put a stop to that. But I don’t like shooting them,” she said.
Another resident suggested the coyotes could be coming from hundreds of acres of open land at the Los Alamitos airbase.
Residents also pointed to David Lara of the Rossmoor Homeowners Association as “a wealth of information” on the coyote issue, which has also affected his community.
Staff presented three options to council members: education, trapping and relocation.
Education, which everyone agreed is necessary, calls for teaching residents to not leave food or small pets outside and what to do when encountering a coyote.
With trapping, a contractor sets out traps for two weeks and checks them on weekday evenings, killing coyotes who get caught.
The trapper can also track down areas where the coyotes are crossing into neighborhoods — like storm drains or holes in fencing — that can be barricaded.
Relocating the coyotes wasn’t considered viable by staff, based on input from the Humane Society and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A study showed that coyotes immediately try to travel back to their original home range but are killed on the way by hunters or other coyotes, staff said.
Additionally, poisoning the coyotes would be illegal, staff said.
The city has also set up a hotline to report coyote sightings: 714-741-5286.
To protect children, staff recommends:
- Never leaving small children unattended outside.
- Picking up a small child if a coyote is nearby.
- Teaching children safety around strange animals.
The strategy for children, known as “SMART,” directs kids to:
- Stop and don’t make any sudden moves.
- Make yourself look big.
- Announce yourself by making a loud noise.
- Retreat by backing away slowly and notify an adult.
Staff emphasized that it’s important for children not to run from a coyote and to call for help from an adult.
Adults too are encouraged to make themselves appear bigger, louder and more threatening than the coyote.
That strategy is called “hazing,” which includes:
- Yelling and waiving arms.
- Banging pots and pans.
- Using squirt guns.
- Throwing things.
However, staff cautioned against hazing a coyote that’s sick, injured or backed into a corner.
If someone does see a sick or injured coyote, staff said, they should call OC Animal Care. Their main line is 714-935-6848.
Coyotes are naturally active at dawn and dusk and generally avoid people, staff said.
But coyotes living near humans can become habituated or lose their fear of people.
That habituation usually happens when they learn that people or neighborhoods are a source of food, staff added.
Food sources include:
- Pet food left outside.
- BBQ or food scraps.
- Unsecured trash.
- Compost piles.
- Fruit trees.
- Bird feeders.
“Habituation is a learned behavior, and whether knowingly or unknowingly we can reinforce this with the coyotes, so that’s something we need to be aware of,” said Deputy City Manager Maria Stipe.
Coyotes normally hunt small rodents — like mice, squirrels and rabbits — but can also attack unattended pets, especially small dogs and cats, staff said. Even larger-breed dogs can be at risk during coyote breeding season.
In order to protect pets, staff suggested keeping small dogs and cats inside or, when outside, accompanied by an adult.
Staff also recommends:
- Feeding pets indoors.
- Using shorter leashes when walking pets.
- Storing trash in covered heavy duty containers.
- Keeping yards free from potential animal shelters, like thick brush and weeds.
- Enclosing the bottoms of porches and decks.
- Eliminating potential food and water sources, like fallen fruit and standing water.
Wednesday’s meeting was scheduled after several residents showed up to last week’s City Council meeting to urge action on the issue.
“I want to be able to enjoy my neighborhood again,” said resident Christine Case.