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Is A Bullet The Answer To Controlling Coyote Attacks?

Aired 8/2/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

After a number of coyote attacks, the city of Laguna Woods changed its gun law to allow pest control professionals to shoot these animals. We will discuss how San Diego is affected and how the community can get involved in preventing these attacks.

After a number of coyote attacks, the city of Laguna Woods changed its gun law to allow pest control professionals to shoot these wild animals. Over time, coyotes have become more comfortable around people, causing more attacks. Many dogs and cats have been killed. Residents have also faced injury.

Coyotes in the wild have become less afraid of people, making attacks more prevalent.  There are steps that the community can take, so that these animals do not hurt pets, and people.
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Above: Coyotes in the wild have become less afraid of people, making attacks more prevalent. There are steps that the community can take, so that these animals do not hurt pets, and people.

Under very limited conditions the city manager and police chief of Laguna Woods now have power to issue permits to shoot coyotes to licensed exterminators, veterinarians and other animal control professionals. We will discuss how this law came about and how it could affect San Diego.

Guests:

Bert Hack, Mayor of Laguna Woods

Ali Crumpacker, Director of Fund For Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, i'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Anyone who's host a dog or cat to a coyote in San Diego knows how cruel nature can be. But animal rights activists say humans can also be cruel when the response to a growing coyote population is a bullet. Last week, the orange county are community of laguna woods changed its gun law to allow licensed exterminators to shoot coyotes. They issued the permit to a pest control community because residents of a retirement community were concerned for their safety. I'd like to welcome my guests, first of all Burt Hack, mayor of laguna woods. Welcome.

HACK: Hello. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Ali Crumpacker is director of Fund for Animals, good afternoon.

CRUMPACKER: Hi, thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: If our listeners have stories about coyote sightings or problems in their neighborhoods, give us a call. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Or contact us on twitter at KPBSMidday. Mayor Hack, i wonder if you could tell us the situation faced by residents at the retirement community that prompted your city council to act.

HACK: Well, normally we try to coexist with these animals. We have a community that's been here for 45†years. And we're adjacent to a wilderness area. We have had coyotes in our community over the years, and we all have working relations. The question is, normally the coyotes don't come down and attack people. And they stay away. So we try to give them their space and allow them to do that. Usually there's a reflect of what the weather's like. When the weather is hot and dry like it is now, in the hills all the plants go down, the small game goes away, and the coyotes begin to look for other feed. And frequently they come into the community. And they come into the community and basically they look for things that are going to be feed for them. Typically it tends to be cats and dogs. These are things which our pet owners carry and walk with, and you know they're on leash, and normal three if there's some kind of relationship between them, the animal it is will not attack when the person is present. Now, it appears that these animals have become less and less willing to leave when the animals are present. And we just had a series of attacks on pets on leads with individuals. The result has been that a number of our senior citizens have gotten knocked over, and several dragged because they immediately interposed themselves between the coyote and the pet to protect it. It's a difficult situation, it's not as if we're not trying to live with our coyotes. We have over the years, and we have gone to the trouble of putting the fish and game people into our hall where we've worked with them. They're present there. And we have had good relations with them, and when it gets aggressive, they go out and trap and do whatever they can and occasionally euthanize. That's their role. Now their position is, unless there's a direct bite to a person, not other physical damage, they will not proceed. So where do we go and what do we do? And when our residents get hurt, we feel as public safety, we have to act.

CAVANAUGH: Mayor Hack, let me step in for a moment. It's my understanding that before you changed the law, the gun laws were only to allow a police officer to be able to discharge a weapon within the city limits of laguna woods.

HACK: That is correct.

CAVANAUGH: And now you changed it to allow a pet control company to apply for a permit if there are attacks by coyotes that threaten people. Is that right?

HACK: That's right. But one other thing you want to -- a couple of other things you ought to note, for instance, this is not just the city managers that can issue a permit. It is also the police chief. The two of them can currently issue it, and they issue it for a limited time and a limited place, and in limited hours. It's an extremely limited activity for only a short period in order to correct a specific set of problems, not an ongoing activity.

CAVANAUGH: Let me get you into this conversation, you are a director of funds for animals. How often does a situation like this arise in southern california?

CRUMPACKER: We hear of it when the coyote is the 81 that's injured. So quite often, we are getting the coyotes that have been improperly shot, so that they're injured but not killed or we're getting the coyotes that have been attacked by the dog, vice versa, from the situation they are they're experiencing in Laguna Woods where the coyotes are getting harmed by dogs.

CAVANAUGH: Is it true that coyotes are not protected in California? They're not a protected species are they?

CRUMPACKER: No, they're not.

CAVANAUGH: And can any community issue permits for the shooting of communities?

CRUMPACKER: I'm not familiar with that answer.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. So do you know that, Mayor Hack? There's no --

HACK: I know the limitation. If it's a public safety issue, you weigh the pros and cons carefully. And you act to protect your citizens. But once again, i think -- to be careful, the first response we got was some report that we were issuing guns to our citizens who are going out to hunt these things. It's these over statements and the emotional responses that cause the problem. The interesting thing here is the problems are caused because we all are pet lovers, we're all animal lovers. I think one of our real problems here are some of our own residents who in their zealous response because they love wild animals have occasionally been putting out food. This allows the coyote to come in and feed, and believes that they are here for feeding. And that means in effect, they are less scared of the people of course they don't take off when people come out or are about. My guess is they're prevalent in the community in daylight hours, they're not taking off when people are there. I've seen my neighbors or residents walking around, carrying big sticks. It's a time of some stress. And i don't think it's going to be alleviated until we probably get some rain in the hills and there's small game there.

CAVANAUGH: And Ali?

CRUMPACKER: I have to agree with what he said saying. I do believe that a lot of the problems that are occurring right now is because people are feeding these animals. When they're doing it intentionally or not, they're putting food out for cats, leaving their dogs outside, scatters feed and debris for wild chickens, and we do get phone calls with people asking what they should feed coyotes or foxes or other wildlife. And that's where we have the opportunity at least to educate that one caller how wrong that idea is. You are absolutely not to feed them.

HACK: I agree with your guest, frankly. It's the feeding and the lack of being. The funny part here is all people involved claim to be animal lovers, and they are. But how do you express it? We've created a situation where if you feed wild animals or put food out for wild animals other than it's an infraction. The fine is going up to a thousand dollars. But no one sees it. And i know people are doing this because we find the debris of food.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, during your debate about this issue, did anyone speak out against a change in the law?

HACK: Oh, yes, more people spoke out against than for. And of course what happens in effect is now we're getting e-mails, we get from both sides, the people who spoke out against saying it's cruel, people who were spoken out on the other side saying you should be doing more. In a real sense, i think i strike a balance when both sides think their position has been over stated. The issue for me is a limited very a -- a very limited response. We are not offering this as a permanent solution. The right for the connect to hunt these animals is very specific in very limited time and for very short periods of time. As the problem alleviates, we will not have this happening. On the other hand, it is a new ordinance which allows us during times to act.

Maureen Cavanaugh: Let me and Ali some preventative questions. What do you recommend communities do if indeed coyotes are coming down and they are taking pets, and there are similar problems to what laguna woods is experiencing?

CRUMPACKER: The humane society of the united states has an urban wildlife department has a robust program that you can access online, call our facility, and we can pass that on, and it gives the communities ideas of how to haze the coyotes. These are adaptive, learning animals. They have learned humans provide food and aren't going to do anything pat to them. Rather than harming or kill canning coyotes, we can teach them these are not appropriate actions, we can tell them that humans are scary by making ourselves louder and larger, rather than sitting passively and watching the coyotes, scare them off. Yell at them. Carry a noise maker with you, an air horn when you're walking your dog. If you're in an area where there's there's coyotes frequently, teach them to respect the human areas and run away. It's gonna be more effective in the long run to teach the coyotes that are here that humans are not a safe being. If we kill them, new coyotes are coming in, the cycle continues. There's no teaching, learning, they're not going to be able to teach their young that humans are bad and we should stay away from them.

CAVANAUGH: That air horn sounds like a good idea, Mayor Hack. What do you think about that?

HACK: We've tried. I think everything she said is fine. We have indeed tried the adaptive techniques. The problem here is, counteractive to that is probably the putting out of food at a time of stress for the animals. So they come on down. Will they run away from people who get in their face? Yes, we've tried this. A neighbor of my daughter's going out, he's a man in his '40s, he did this. The coyote retreated approximately 50†feet and just sat there. These animals have adapted. And they are adaptive. I agree with her. But the point of it is, when you get people -- animals who are non-responsive and who cause problems -- i've got two senior women who were just dragged quite a long distance, and they're rather hurt. Can i ignore that? It's a problem that you balance the equities here. I want to live with my wild animals, i'm going to live with the coyotes, and everything she's saying are the things we've done. I've lived in this community for 20†years. We live with them. These are things that occur on a occasional bases. You give me a dry season, and they'll be down here.

CAVANAUGH: The latest news on your situation is that i believe the permit issued for the exterminator expired without any coyotes being shotted.

HACK: We've trapped two.

CAVANAUGH: What are you going to do with them?

HACK: Basically we try to decide what to do with them. No one wants to take them. As far as shooting, the reason we couldn't shoot them, i want to repeat what the lady had said, at how adaptive these animals are. They're out marauding in the daytime. We're only issue aid shooting permit at night. So we're not going to shoot when people are around. These are populated areas. So they've adapted on it. And it's in the daylight. They are not roams at night.

CAVANAUGH: Theresa is is calling us. Can you give us your question really fast Theresa?

New speaker: I want to know if part of the issue with these pets being taken while they're on a leash has to do with the use of the so called trolley leashes where your pet can easily be 12, 15, 20†feet in front of you or away from you, and therefore you don't represent any kind of a connection or threat to an animal that might be marauding it.

CAVANAUGH: That's very interesting, Theresa. Thank you. Mayor Hack?

HACK: No, these were taken on short leashes where people immediately present. Which is why they rushed and interposed themselves between the animal and their pet. And they were foolish to do it, clearly. But they're out to protect their pet who was very dear to them. We understand these things, and we're trying to do it -- they recommend the short leaves. And mostly they're following it. Upon to an extent, everybody violets to some degree. I don't think the problem would be so severe if some of our residents had not put food out. And we try to make that very prevalent.

CAVANAUGH: Let me have Ali, excuse me, but let me have Ali have the last word on this because we're running out of time. And it seem as if you agree with Mayor Hack that the idea to get a handle on this is early on by not indulging in those chairs that are going to attract coyotes.

CRUMPACKER: You have to make sure your whole neighborhood is on the same page. If one person is working to prevent the coyotes from coming into the yard, but the neighbor next door is feeding them, you're working against each other. And ultimately, the coyotes are going to choose the free, available food over does discouragement of coming into that area. Woo they will always come for that free food. If it's there, they're going to be there.

CAVANAUGH: I hope, mayor, HACK that we dispelled any of those notions that people had in those other news reports about people just shooting wildly in laguna woods. You have very specific laws about this, and gosh, i hope you don't need to use them again.

HACK: We hope so too.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with mayor bird HACK of laguna woods, and Ali Crumpacker with Fund for Animals. Thank you both so much.

HACK: You're welcome.

CRUMPACKER: Thank you.

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