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Coyote kills highlight potential perils for outdoor cats

A long-haired Maine Coon missing from the intersection of Church and Franklin streets in Mountain View. A white-bellied domestic shorthair that disappeared from Russell Avenue in Los Altos. A timid tabby that vanished near Los Altos Hills Town Hall.

Local social media networks are abuzz right now with reports of wayward felines. Some of these cats may very well return home safely, but summer is the season when coyote kills of small domestic pets tend to increase because the predators are teaching their young to hunt.

Cody Macartney, lead animal control officer with Palo Alto Animal Control, contract provider for Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, collected two dead cats in Los Altos just last week, their cause of death evident from missing stomachs and chest cavities; coyotes typically leave the rest of their prey untouched.

“Definitely this is the high season for this,” Macartney said. “Probably by September or so we should see it settle down as nature takes its course, and maybe certain coyotes don’t survive.”

Between September and November is when coyote pups begin dispersing, according to Project Coyote, a Northern California-based nonprofit that promotes conservation.

Protecting pets

Mountain View resident Chanda Gray lost Milo, her longhaired, black and white tuxedo cat, to a coyote during daylight hours July 6. A Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority officer found Milo’s body about a half-block away from Gray’s Clark Avenue condo, located just off El Camino Real. The officer traced Milo to Gray through the cat’s microchip.

Milo
Milo

“It’s so hard knowing that he reaped such a tragic death,” Gray said. “It’s just almost unbearable, and I want to tell everyone else: Please bring your cats in night and day. They have to be indoor cats. You don’t want to go through this grief. It’s just too much.”

Gray said she had no idea that coyotes ventured so deep into suburbia. Macartney, in fact, has heard reports of the animals as far east as Charleston Road – on the bay side of Highway 101 – in Palo Alto. During periods of drought, coyotes venture down from the hills and typically follow the creeks in search of water and food sources. Four or five years ago, there came a season when Palo Alto Animal Control collected a coyote cat kill nearly every day, but that’s declined to approximately two a month in the past year or two. (Attacks on dogs are rarer.) Factors contributing to the decline could include changing weather or natural coyote die-offs from their own predators and from disease.

Pearl and Phoebe, Los Altos Hills resident Wendie Ward’s two cats, were killed Aug. 12, 2014, after a pet sitter attracted coyotes with kibble left outdoors overnight. Ward doesn’t, however, hold any ill will toward the coyotes, which she believes were simply following their instincts in an environment they claimed long before human habitation.

“The only reason people are seeing them now is they’ve been forced onto the streets,” Ward said. “They’ve always been here. They just had more space to hide.”

As a member of the Los Altos Hills Open Space Committee, it’s Ward’s job to help educate town residents about the need for wildlife corridors and easements around their properties. Committee members routinely survey housing projects to ensure residents are following the town’s fence ordinance, which specifies required setbacks between properties and roads and prohibits the obstruction of wildlife corridors.

Rather than make concessions for coyotes, Los Altos resident Jim Christenson of the South Clark neighborhood thinks they should be euthanized. One killed Freddie, his 2-year-old cat, approximately two years ago, about the time the downtown Los Altos area experienced an uptick in domestic pet deaths attributed to coyotes. A neighbor’s housekeeper watched a coyote attack Freddie approximately 50 feet from Christenson’s door.

“I feel like the animal rights groups are backing the coyotes,” Christenson said. “I don’t understand why they prefer coyotes to house pets, but they do. As far as I’m concerned, the animal rights argument works both ways here, and I strongly support the rights of my own pets to the wildlife.”

Like Ward, Gray believes it’s pet owners who must change their way of thinking. She now confines her surviving cat to the indoors and has started sharing her experience through social media and with people she meets as a warning.

“Don’t think it won’t happen to you,” Gray said. “It can happen to anyone, and it’s our responsibility. We are our pets’ parents, and we have to keep them safe.”

Tips for discouraging coyote activity

The following tips are from the California Department of Fish and Game’s “Keep Me Wild” program and Project Coyote.

• Put garbage in tightly closed containers that can’t be tipped over.

• Remove sources of water, especially in dry climates.

• Bring pets in at night and do not leave pet food outside.

• Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting rodents and other coyote prey.

• Provide secure enclosures for rabbits, poultry, etc.

• Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.

• Walk dogs on leashes and pick up small dogs when encountering a coyote.

• “Haze” coyotes by yelling, jumping, shaking objects, etc., when they are near. Never run from a coyote.

• Ask your neighbors to follow these tips.

For more information, visit keepmewild.org or projectcoyote.org.

Reporting activity

Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto residents should report sick, injured, dead or stray animal sightings to Palo Alto Animal Control at 329-2413. For lost and found pets in those cities, call Pets In Need at 496-5971.

Mountain View residents should report sick, injured, dead and stray animal sightings – as well as lost and found pets – to Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority at (408) 764-0344.

To report an unusual coyote sighting, call Santa Clara County Vector Control at (408) 918-4770.

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