Photo By: Courtesy of California Department of FisH & Wildlife
Police caution residents after reports of coyote sightings near Los Altos High.
A local animal services official warns Los Altos residents to keep a watchful eye on their small pets this summer because coyotes are lurking.
Connie Urbanski, interim superintendent of the city of Palo Alto’s Animal Services Division, told the Town Crier that a handful of recent coyote sightings, plus the discovery of two deceased cats in late May, raised concern about the welfare of small household pets in the area. Urbanski’s agency provides animal services to Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.
She noted that while coyote sightings in Los Altos are not uncommon – given the city’s close proximity to hill country – the spring and summer often bring more of them to the area. That’s because it’s the time of year when juvenile coyotes learn to fend for themselves and discover new food sources.
“This has been a very prolific year for wildlife,” said Urbanski, pointing to underlying factors such as a shorter rainy season. “The young being taken care of by mama are now going out and learning to hunt and care for themselves.”
Urbanski’s words of caution came after Los Altos Police received multiple reports of coyotes spotted in residential neighborhoods, including one sighting on Alicia Way – near Los Altos High School – prompting a May 30 appeal to the public to keep domesticated cats indoors.
Urbanski said the coyotes in question are simply acting as nature intended by seeking an accessible food source. Small pets could be at risk, particularly from dusk until dawn when coyotes are typically most active.
“Even small dogs could become prey … anything small that’s vulnerable,” she said.
Urbanski added that it’s not uncommon to see a coyote in residential areas like Alicia Way, noting that nearby dry creekbeds act as “a freeway” for the animals.
“They can get to a lot of places using the creeks, especially now that they’re drier,” she said. “That’s a normal routine for them.”
Los Altos resident Diane Heckman knows all too well about the dangers coyotes can pose to household pets.
Heckman suspects a coyote ventured into her neighborhood through the Permanente Creek bed at Heritage Oaks Park on Mc- Kenzie Avenue May 29. Heckman said her 11-year-old Tabby cat, Hobbs, went outside at 4:30 a.m. and was found dead less than two hours later by a neighbor.
“I had no idea there were coyotes running around in Los Altos,” said Heckman, whose veterinarian confirmed that her cat was likely the victim of a coyote attack. “It’s not disturbing to me, but it’s just odd to me for it to happen in a suburban area. … I don’t think I would’ve let (Hobbs) out if I had know there were coyotes.”
Heckman added that her family’s other cat, Suzie, has mostly remained indoors since Hobbs was killed.
“She’s a prisoner right now,” Heckman quipped.
Urbanski listed several steps residents can take to discourage coyotes from seeking suburban sustenance. Her advice:
• Don’t leave pet food outside.
• Secure garbage cans with a bungee cord.
• Don’t leave small pets outside from dusk to dawn.
• Lock all cat and dog doors from dusk to dawn.
• Go outside with pets when they do their “business.”
“If people do these kinds of things, the coyotes will go back to the hills and hunt for other food sources, like squirrels,” Urbanski said.
She added that although coyotes are not a threat to people “at this time,” residents should not approach them. Injured coyotes or those with a litter of pups are typically more protective and aggressive when confronted, according to Urbanski. Residents who spot a coyote are advised to contact their local police department immediately to seek assistance from animal services.
“We haven’t seen (aggressive behavior toward humans), but I don’t want to take that possibility out of the picture,” Urbanski said. “There should be no situation where a member of the public should try to interact with them.”
To report a coyote sighting or incident, contact Los Altos Police at 947-2770.