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Rescuing animals is an art in Laurel Canyon

With songs, psychics, walkie-talkies and camouflage, a sick coyote is tracked and saved.

January 17, 2010|Steve Lopez

The mysterious gray, hairless animal was first spotted last summer lurking in backyard gardens, sacked out on a chaise lounge and strolling down narrow lanes.

Was it a chupacabra?

A strange dog?

The missing link?

Soon, all of Laurel Canyon was abuzz. For several weeks starting in August, they tracked the animal, with residents communicating by walkie-talkie because cellphones don't work in the canyon. But the creature, which turned out to be a sick coyote, was too wily.

In those early days, the battalion included two animal control officers, a veterinarian and an off-duty cop who was armed with tranquilizer guns and wearing camouflage, with leaves and twigs poking out of his hat. Three animal "communicators" were consulted to learn more about the coyote's movements and thoughts.

Yes, it's a little different in Laurel Canyon.

Dana Miller of Montrose was one of the animal psychics called in to make contact with the elusive beast, which they were calling Rosie. Miller told me last week that she helps people find lost pets by making contact with the animals telepathically. By just looking at a picture of any animal, she said, she can talk to it.

"I personally have the ability to hear what they say."

Hmmmm.

So what did Rosie say?

Miller kept a transcript of her conversations, which included this Q and A exchange:

"Q: Should we help?

"A: I am only one amidst a sea of many. I can't believe anyone cares."

Miller said she told Rosie to go into the trap and she wouldn't be harmed.

Skip Haynes, who was involved in the search from the beginning, was the one in contact with Miller. He has a record label called Laurel Canyon Animal Co. and makes CDs for animals, such as the one titled "Songs to Make Dogs Happy." Haynes said he uses "communicators" to tell him what music the dogs like.

Haynes said he's a skeptic and can't understand what the animal psychics are saying most of the time, but they've offered eerily canny observations about what kind of music animals like.

The person who first identified Rosie's species wasn't a psychic, though. It was Brenda Varvarigos of Valley Wildlife Care, a volunteer-run nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates sick and injured native wildlife before releasing the animals back where they came from.

"I knew right away that it was a young coyote suffering from sarcoptic mange," said Varvarigos, who was rescuing a barn owl from a swimming pool in the Valley when I called.

She said it's common in local animals and a good example of the threat people pose to wildlife. She guesses the coyote's mother fed her a rat that had been poisoned by a homeowner trying to exterminate rodents. So by poisoning rats and killing off the coyotes that hunt them, Varvarigos said, you may end up with more rats.

Varvarigos told residents that Rosie could be treated and returned to health if she were captured. But Varvarigos would have to lead the way, because you need a permit to go after a wild animal. They'd have to move quickly, she said, because the hairless Rosie was out and about in daylight only to stay warm, and she'd die when cold weather set in.

Through the fall, "it was almost like a military operation," said Haynes, with neighbors manning traps and e-mails going out at every sighting.

Not everyone was committed to saving Rosie, Haynes said. Some wondered why they should bother, given how many pets are chomped by coyotes.

But Haynes was beginning to rethink his relationship with wildlife. He knew of neighbors who wanted to feed wild animals and others who wanted to shoot them on sight, and neither is the right thing to do, in his opinion.

Feeding them, as he learned from Varvarigos, can kill them in the end, because they'll get the wrong food and lose their hunting instinct. And killing them seems absurd for people who have chosen to live in a densely wooded wildlife habitat.

"We have to learn how to live with them," said Haynes, who found himself driving along curvy hilltops with bobcat meat, imported from Montana, for the traps. His girlfriend Rikki Poulis, a design director for the Grammy Awards, was also on patrol.

"You could say it became an obsession," said Haynes, who recorded a song called "Coyote Girl" and played it while he drove me around.

He showed me the spots where animal control officers, the vet and the off-duty cop had stalked Rosie with tranquilizer guns. Also the spot, near the home of Laurel Canyon Assn. President Cassandra Barrere, a script supervisor, where the cop sat in a lawn chair, dressed as a bush.

"I'd go out to get the mail and see him all camouflaged," said Barrere, who always knew when Rosie was near because her pets scampered to the window to look outside.

Rosie brought the community together, Haynes and Barrere agree.

"It was something from the heart, and the community was engaged," said Barrere.

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