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Did We Fail to Mention Coyotes?

February 28, 2001|Steve Chawkins | Steve Chawkins can be reached at or at 653-7561

Laurel Hewson is sounding the alarm: People must know about the unseen threat in their neighborhoods.

When you buy a house, you're given a fistful of disclosures. The earthquake fault beneath the backyard may open up to swallow your trampoline. The mildew stain on the bathroom ceiling is as indelible as the mark of Cain. A good rain could send the garage scooting down Wistful Vista.

You might be told about balky appliances and noisy neighbors. You might even be dolefully informed of the convicted child molester who lives down the block. But nobody ever, ever tells you about Miss Fluffy's strange disappearance and the night visitor suspected of snatching and devouring her.

Hewson wants to know why.

In a letter addressed to "Dear Someone Somewhere" and delivered to various local officials, she eloquently framed her lament:

"It never occurred to me that a residential neighborhood surrounded by other housing developments to the west, the north, the northeast and the southeast, plus a shopping center to the east and the 126 Freeway to the south, was coyote-plagued," she wrote.

"I looked in our housing development information for a coyote disclosure but found none. I called the builder of our community, who claimed that coyotes were everywhere and I should have known about the coyote presence. How could I know? If every street in Ventura is coyote territory, people need to be warned. All cats and small dogs are in danger."

A medical technologist, Hewson came to Ventura from West Los Angeles after a brief detour to Torrance. She and her husband, Jack, moved to a new subdivision at Telegraph and Kimball roads last August.

She thought she'd be moving to the suburbs. What she didn't realize was that out here in the territories, nature's fetid breath and bloody paw pierce the coziest cul-de-sac.

Last month, Zorak, one of the couple's three cats, disappeared.

Setting out to post a "Lost Cat" sign in the neighborhood, Laurel Hewson made a grim discovery. At the front lawn's edge, there were tufts of black fur and internal organs.

In grief, Hewson changed the sign she was about to post.

"Coyotes got our cat," it read. "Protect your pets. Please."

Hewson said her neighbors frequently report missing cats and even small dogs.

"We just didn't know," Hewson said. "If we'd been warned, we wouldn't have let him out. But nobody warned us."

If there were coyote disclosures, they'd be made at virtually every home closing in Ventura County.

"There isn't an area here where they don't exist in huge numbers," said Kathy Jenks, the county's director of animal regulation. "There are hundreds of them on the base at Port Hueneme. They're in all the dunes along the coast--plus all the farms and open space areas where you'd expect them anyway."

Once upon a time, federally licensed coyote trappers roamed Ventura County, Jenks said. But they moved out about 25 years ago, when the sheep business here bleated its last.

Besides, Jenks said, hired guns were never a match for Canis latrans.

"The feds have tried everything," she said. "They've spent millions on coyote control, but the population estimates never really fluctuated. They're amazing in their adaptability; in drought years, they won't even breed, because there won't be enough food to sustain the pups. The next year, though, their pup crop might be triple."

In the rare times that coyotes can't find a cat, dog, squirrel or rat, they'll do just fine with old Caesar salad from a restaurant dumpster. They're as flexible as Cirque de Soleil and smart enough to howl in bestial glee at the thought of coyote disclosures.

Jenks said the best anti-coyote strategy for homeowners is the most obvious: Keep your pets inside.

As for the Hewsons' two surviving cats, Laurel says they won't stray from the backyard, a space surrounded by walls that might just be tall enough to daunt invaders.

"I think they heard what happened," she said. "I think they were traumatized."

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