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Residents are howling at the sight of coyotes

The predators may be seeking water and food in a residential area near Hancock Park.

January 23, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

One homeowner thought two wolves were slinking with their tails between their legs across his frontyard in the darkness. Another thought someone's unleashed pet collies were trotting briskly down her street's sidewalk in broad daylight.

Residents of a neighborhood between Hancock Park and the Fairfax district had never seen coyotes before.

They've seen them now -- and an invasion of the wily predators has set the residential area in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Los Angeles on edge.

More than 30 coyote sightings have been made in recent weeks in the flatlands bordered by Gardner Street, La Brea Avenue, 3rd Street and Melrose Avenue. Children and pets are being kept indoors. Adults have taken to carefully looking before stepping out of their homes.

Authorities offer assurances that attacks on humans are rare. Still, the coyotes have caused concern in the neighborhood.

"We see them on street corners and in our driveways," said resident Jeanne Litvin. "On Friday, a man at Alta Vista [Boulevard] and 1st Street had to sit in his car and wait for them to leave before he could get out."

Rabbi Abraham Halberstam was startled when he stepped out of his house at 5:30 a.m. and into the path of a pair of coyotes running across his lawn.

"He thought he was dreaming. He knew they weren't dogs," said his wife, Malkie.

A few days later she spied two coyotes sitting on a lawn on Martel Avenue. "I followed them when they got up. They ran down 1st Street," she said.

The coyote that lawyer Mel Teitelbaum saw standing on the sidewalk near his home didn't look all that wily. "It looked lost. It looked like it didn't know what to do," he said.

Residents speculate the coyotes are coming from Runyon Canyon Park, about a mile and a half north of their homes, or the Wilshire Country Club, about three-quarters of a mile east. They say their own hasty research into the animals suggests that the dry weather might be forcing them from the hills.

Nearby West Hollywood, in fact, issued a December warning to its residents of increased sighting of the coyotes looking for water and food there and in Beverly Hills.

A wild member of the dog family, known scientifically as Canis latrans (or "barking dog") because of its yips and high-pitched howls, the coyote can provoke fear.

Jittery homeowners have called 911, as well as City Councilman Jack Weiss's office, to report the animals. Emergency operators and council aides forwarded the callers to the city Animal Services Department. But homeowners learned that there is nothing the city will do about coyotes.

Since 1994 city animal control officers have not trapped coyotes roaming residential neighborhoods unless the creatures are injured or distressed or are attacking pets. Trapping permits are not issued to private citizens.

Coyotes trapped by officers are euthanized because state law prohibits their release elsewhere, said Officer Gregory Randall, the city's wildlife specialist. Residents can call licensed pest control companies to trap troublesome coyotes, but those animals also will be killed, Randall said.

Although pets occasionally disappear in the area adjacent to Hancock Park, residents said they were unaware of any being killed by coyotes. But city officials speculated that may be happening.

"We get calls from all over about cats and small dogs disappearing," said Capt. Wendell Bowers, city Animal Services' wildlife program coordinator. "Coyotes are everywhere -- Wilshire, San Pedro. They used to be nocturnal. Now they're out all the time."

The city experiences an average of two coyote attacks on humans a year, but no such attacks have been reported for about three years, Bowers said.

Small children are most at risk. Three years ago police in Simi Valley shot and killed a coyote after it attacked three children playing on a street and then tried to drag a 3 1/2 -year-old boy off his front porch. The animal had grabbed the 34-pound boy by the neck and fled only when the youngster's mother screamed and scared it away.

A fatal 1981 attack on a 3-year-old Glendale girl is the only documented case of a coyote killing a human in the Los Angeles area. Following Kelly Keen's death, county wildlife officers trapped and killed 55 coyotes within half a mile of her home.

Bowers said residents should make coyotes feel unwelcome.

"We don't want coyotes hanging around," he said. "They should be running when they see us. They should be yelled at or have something thrown at them. They should be scared of us."

Litvin said homeowners in her neighborhood are spreading the word to be alert and to keep garbage cans closed, trees free of low-hanging fruit and pets indoors.

Howard Winkler said he searched for photographs of coyotes on the Internet after getting calls from friends who have seen them. Last week he saw his first ones in person.

"I was driving west on Beverly Boulevard. It was already dark and there they were, running north to south. They certainly weren't stray dogs," said Winkler, a member of the county Commission on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs who lives in Hancock Park.

From his car, he called county animal control officers to report his find. But by then the coyotes had gone.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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