Personal Coyote Encounter Prompts Updated Pet Safety Tips

July 18, 2010

Photo of Coyote Photo Credit donjd2on flickr

Recently, while going for an early evening jog in the Hollywood hills I faced a potential danger which frequently threatens the pet population. As I neared my half way point at the top of Sunset Plaza Road (actually, where Kate Bekinsale jogged in the movie Laurel Canyon), I encountered two adult coyotes directly in my path.

Fortunately, the mangy looking canids did not serve as a threat to my safety. I stood my ground and methodically progressed in their direction while making loud scuffing sounds with the bottom of my running shoes. The coyotes stood and watched me for a moment as I moved closer, then slowly made their way off of the path, down a wooded hill, and disappeared from site.

At that moment, my better judgement told me that I should just turn around and head back down the hill. I then was filled with a feeling of confidence that my presence was seemingly intimidating enough to scare them off. I continued on my path and planted myself at the end of the dirt trail where I normally stretch and take in the vast Los Angeles view.

I tried to flush from my mind the fear that I could be trapped in this semi-secluded stretching site by the coyotes. Needless to say, I did a brief stretch had dialed my senses up to high alert as I quickly ran back by the site where I encountered the predators.

As I made my way down the hill I was repeatedly reminded of the threat of physical trauma wildlife can pose to pets (and potentially people). I was recently in London and witnessed the media frenzy surrounding a fox attack on two young girls as they slept in their beds (see Guardian UK article Mother of twins attacked by fox describes ‘living nightmare’). In my clinical practice, I have seen first hand the trauma caused by wildlife attack (see Update on Dog Attacked by West Hollywood Hawk). Additionally, one of the saddest celebrity pet stories of 2009 involved poor Jessica Simpson’s dog Daisy (see Jessica Simpson’s dog, Daisy, missing after coyote attack).

As it was a pleasant southern California evening following a brutally hot day, I observed many open doors and windows in the hillside homes I passed. I thought of how scary it would be to encounter a menacing coyote or other animal in the confines of one’s own home or yard. Certainly living in an environment in close or direct proximity to territory frequented by wild animals makes it more likely we or our pets may have a potentially traumatizing interaction.

So, I decided to update my list of pet safety recommendations, as follows:

1. Keep your pet inside unless a responsible adult is outside overseeing the pet’s care.
2. Avoid walking your dog at dawn, dusk or when poor lighting can disguise a predator’s approach.
3. Walk your dog on a short lead instead of a retractable lead (see Will West Hollywood Follow UK and Fine Dog Owners for Using Retractable Leads).  Wildlife will be less inclined to approach a person and more likely to attack a dog walking considerable distance from their owner.
4. Carry pepper spray or an air-horn which will create a startling sound loud enough to scare away an attacking animal.  Yelling and waving your arms (or scuffing your feet, as I experienced) will also be effective.
5. If you live in a known area inhabited by wildlife, fence your property and install motion-activated lights.

6. Use secure screens on all doors and windows. In your absence, shut all open entrances to your home.

7. Do not leave pet or other foods outside in the yard to reduce attraction by scavengers.
8. Refrain from feeding wildlife to minimize potential for their return to your premises.
9. Keep trash in sturdy containers with locking lids.  Attach trash containers to stable upright objects (fence, etc) to prevent toppling.
Have heightened awareness of the year-round threat wildlife present to pets and people. The emotional anguish caused by the memory of a beloved pet being snatched by a coyote is not something any pet owner should face.  Take precautions to reduce the likelihood your pets may face life-altering trauma resulting from a wild animal attack.

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Photo credit johnjd2 on flickr

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