Dave Pincek was gone for only a couple of hours when he left his dogs, Buddy and Swiffer, in the backyard of his Seal Beach home to attend his daughter’s elementary school talent show.
When he came back, he heard yelping, whimpering and muffled barks. Pincek thought that one of the dogs fell into the pool.
Instead, he found two coyotes attacking his 15-year old bichon and two-year old maltipoo, which were writhing in pain and covered in blood. When the coyotes saw Pincek, they leaped over his 13-foot fence, escaping into Gum Grove Park.
“I don’t want to co-exist with the coyote here in Seal Beach,” Pincek told the Seal Beach City Council Aug. 11. “I want my daughters … and my wife to walk the dog through the neighborhood and feel safe – and we don’t.”
Pincek’s dogs are just two of almost two-dozen Seal Beach pets that have been mauled to death since 2013 as the city struggles to find a solution to a growing coyote problem.
The predator animals have become a regional issue that Seal Beach City Council members say requires a town hall meeting involving multiple cities and agencies. A date has not yet been set.
Long Beach Animal Control Services, which contracts with Seal Beach, reported nine confirmed attacks in the city since 2013 and another 12 pets that its officers suspect were killed by coyotes. The nearby Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach reported 147 coyote sightings in 2014 with four confirmed attacks, and in Los Alamitos four pets were killed. Not all coyote attacks are reported.
Sightings are not exclusive to the coast. Coyotes are common in Orange County cities close to riverbeds and nature preserves, including Yorba Linda, Mission Viejo and Garden Grove, said Katie Ingram, a community outreach supervisor for OC Animal Care.
Pinning down the number of coyotes living in the Seal Beach area is difficult, but a coyote family that roams the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach has about 12 members, Long Beach Animal Control Director Ted Stevens said.
“It’s possible that there’s a family unit living in Gum Grove Park and there could be another living in the wetlands area. It’s hard to say,” Stevens said.
Coyotes that usually rove around Gum Grove Park and the Los Cerritos Wetlands have been making their way into town, including on Main Street and in Leisure World.
Hardly a community is untouched by the attacks. Residents lined up during Monday’s regular city council meeting to share stories of pets that have been killed. Many say they feel like prisoners in their own homes.
Seal Beach leaders responded to complaints with a Long Beach Animal Control presentation educating residents on how to respond when confronted with a coyote.
Most of the presentation stressed coexistence and outlined hazing methods to chase the animals away. Stevens, who led the presentation, suggested residents buy pepper spray and carry air horns.
“You might have to run right up to that coyote and chase him down the street to get him to leave. You have to throw rocks at them and get them with rocks. Sometimes yelling and screaming isn’t enough,” Stevens said.
If residents are confronted with a sick or injured coyote, they should call Long Beach Animal Control immediately, Stevens said.
But many are fed up and unwilling to live with coyotes in their community. Some suggested trapping the animals for relocation while others demanded the Seal Beach City Council approve hunting licenses for coyotes.
“I’m not going to take a squirt gun to a dog fight,” resident Tom Griffith said, recalling a time when he hazed a coyote by honking his car horn. “All the thing did was turn around and it felt like I was on the other side of the food chain.”
Now Griffith walks around with a valve wrench, he said, “just in case.”
“I would hope that residents wouldn’t take up arms and hunt them illegally, but we need a plan to handle the coyote population,” said Seal Beach Police Chief Joseph Stilinovich.
Costs of hiring a trapper range from $3,000 to $4,000 with no guarantee that a targeted coyote will be caught. Relocating the animals is illegal in California, Stevens said.
Leisure World residents who feed coyotes compound the problem.
“Is that illegal?” asked Councilman Michael Levitt who represents Leisure World, adding that he has seen several of what he described as coyote-wolf hybrids in the area that he estimates weigh at least 50 pounds.
Research on how to best deal with coyotes living in urban environments is mixed.
A 1978 U.S. Humane Society study cited during the presentation shows that killing or trapping the animals leads to an increased population because, “when aggressively controlled, coyotes can increase their reproductive rate by breeding at an earlier age and having larger liters,” the study states.
Other research suggests hazing is initially effective before attacks on pets become common. Once pets are routinely targeted, the risk of coyotes attacking humans increases, according to a 2006 study by the Hopland Research and Extension Center, the University of California’s field research facility for agriculture and natural resources.
Last summer, a two-year old girl was attacked by a coyote in Cypress and dragged into some bushes. She recovered from a leg injury.
Attacks on humans are rare, Ingram said, citing just a few cases in the past eight years when coyotes were unintentionally provoked or backed into corners by humans.
“They’re not going after humans. We’re really too big of prey, and they usually attack when we’re getting involved to protect pets and children,” Ingram said.
After the 2008 Freeway Complex Fires, displaced coyotes became a common sight in Yorba Linda. The city hired trappers to track and shoot the coyotes two nights a week. Nine were killed in about a month.
Residents in Seal Beach’s unincorporated neighboring town of Rossmoor took the matter into their own hands when more than 45 pets were killed by coyotes in less than six months.
After repeated unsuccessful attempts lobbying the Orange County Board of Supervisors to take up the issue, David Lara founded the Rossmoor Predator Management Team in 2009. The neighborhood watch group, which is no longer operating, advocated for blocking storm drains coyotes were using to enter the city and sent alerts to community members when coyotes were sighted. The county followed through and installed grates.
Lara asked the Seal Beach City Council in 2009 to assist Rossmoor with the issue, but city leaders refused to trap or kill the animals, he said.
“So we’re not surprised now that coyotes are in Seal Beach,” Lara said. “You have to take them out. It’s hard for me to say, but you do. You can’t scare them with a horn – they live next to a freeway.”
Pincek said the problem in Seal Beach has gone on long enough.
“If you guys aren’t going to do something about this, then … I will pay to kill coyotes.” Pincek said, lobbying the council to issue hunting licenses. “We’ll take care of the problem if you don’t take care of the problem.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said the Rossmoor Predator Management Team installed the grates. They actually were put in by the county. Voice of OC regrets the error.