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Simi Valley Child Mauled by Coyote; 3 Others Are Attacked

Mother's cries scare it away as it tries to drag the 3-year-old from his porch. The animal, which is killed by police, is tested for rabies.

June 08, 2004|Lynne Barnes | Times Staff Writer

Police fatally shot a coyote after it tried to drag a 3 1/2-year-old Simi Valley boy off his front porch Sunday night and attacked three other children playing on a nearby street.

The boy, Weston Field, was playing outside his Hill Valley Court home around 7 p.m. Sunday when the 45-pound coyote pounced on him, biting him on the neck, ear, head, hand, back and face.

Weston's mother, Debbie, had walked down the driveway to gather some toys when she heard the boy scream.

"He's allergic to dogs, so he's afraid of them," Debbie Field said. "I heard him scream. When I came around the corner, the coyote was right on top of my son."

The animal had grabbed Weston, who weighs about 34 pounds, by the head and neck and tried to drag him away before Debbie Field's screams scared it off.

After treatment by paramedics, Weston was taken to Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, where he received 13 stitches in his face and head. As he was leaving, about midnight, Weston got an ovation from those in the emergency room, Debbie Field said.

On Monday, Weston was in good spirits at home."He wants me to turn off the [coverage at the] Reagan library and put on 'Star Wars,' " said his father, Jeff, a pharmacist.

The attacks began about 6:45 p.m. on Parkview Court in western Simi Valley, when the animal approached two toddlers, ages 2 and 3, who were playing in a backyard. The coyote, a female about 8 months old and the size of a small collie, bit both boys on the ankle through a fence before being chased off by neighbors.

The animal next attacked an 8-year-old boy playing hockey in the street on Twisted Oak Drive. He suffered only scratches.

Police responded within moments after Weston was attacked, Jeff Field said, and killed the animal.

Such attacks are rare, particularly for Ventura County, said Lt. Chris Long of the state Department of Fish and Game.

"There has been some aggressive behavior by coyotes over the years," he said, "but this is the first I remember" in Ventura County, where Long has worked since 1990.

"They do get quite a few in L.A. County, but not here."

Ventura County animal control supervisor Lou Stearns agreed, saying she had not heard of any in the 25 years she's been on the job.

The county's animal control department is examining the coyote, but preliminary tests have not found evidence of rabies. The test will be repeated today. Three of the four injured children began rabies shots Monday as a precaution.

Debbie Field said the family, who moved to their home about a year ago from another in Simi Valley, had seen coyotes at a distance but never up close.

On Monday, she wanted to get the word out about the danger.

"Especially after the fires, anyone in the burn areas needs to know that their child is susceptible to a coyote attack," she said.

Stearns said her department handed out pamphlets Monday to remind residents to stay on guard.

Although the coyote's behavior was unusual, "they do see kids as prey," she said.

In Simi Valley, "you're in an area that's pretty populated with coyotes. People need to watch their kids," she said.

She said that some coyotes may have relocated to the green part of the city, away from the burn areas.

There were 89 coyote attacks on humans in California between the late 1970s and December 2003, according to a report cited by the state Department of Fish and Game. Nearly 80% of them occurred in the last decade, the report said.

Long said most of the attacks come during the springtime, when female coyotes are protecting their young.

He added that although coyote attacks are rare, coyotes aren't.

"An actual bite is out of the ordinary, but coyotes interacting with people is not that uncommon. We've got a lot of houses up in their habitat," he said.

"I live in Ventura, and at night, it's not that unusual to see coyotes."

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Preventing an attack

The state Department of Fish and Game has issued some safety tips for those in areas where coyotes may live:

* Never feed a coyote, either by design or by leaving pet food or garbage where they can get it. Store pet food indoors and use trash cans with lids that clamp shut.

* Clear brush and dense weeds from around dwellings. That reduces protective cover for coyotes and makes the area less attractive to rodents, which coyotes eat.

* Protect children. Never leave them unattended, even in familiar surroundings, such as a backyard.

* Protect pets and livestock. Keep small pets, such as cats, rabbits and small dogs, indoors, especially at night.

* Use negative reinforcement. Make loud noises, throw rocks or spray coyotes with a garden hose. To keep coyotes wild or to prevent them from becoming habituated to humans, it is important that they retain their natural wariness of humans.

* Remove sources of water, especially in dry climates.

* Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.

* Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.

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*Experts warn never to leave children unattended in areas where coyotes can be found.

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Los Angeles Times

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