Banks: Coyote mating season is causing trouble in my neighborhood


The reign of terror in my Northridge neighborhood began with manic dog barks, eerie coyote howls, and the shrill screams of an animal fighting for its life in the dead of night.

I hoped it was coming from the nearby canyon, which is teeming with wildlife. But early the next morning, while walking my dog, I encountered the unmistakable sight of animal remains on the sidewalk near my house.

I dragged it home and busied myself trying it not think what that might mean. But when I looked out my kitchen window the next morning, I saw a coyote standing in my driveway, eagerly looking around for another meal.

I ran out in my pajamas screaming and waving my arms to make myself look tall. I grabbed my water hose and sprayed it with a jet stream, which used to work every time. But this coyote didn’t move; He just stood there and stared at me.

Even when my neighbor came out with his metal baseball bat, the coyote seemed undaunted. When another emerged from a nearby yard, the two casually sauntered away, giving us casual looks as we followed them down the block.

In the four weeks since then, hardly a day has gone by that I haven’t seen a coyote—climbing over a fence to comb backyards, trudging down the street with a cat in its mouth, or eyeing us when I’m in my front yard am with the dogs.

I used to roll my eyes at the precautions some neighbors took when random coyotes were sighted. They built enclosures for their domestic animals, dressed their dogs in spiked vests, and spent lavishly to fortify their yards.

Now I’m the one searching the internet for instructions on how to build an enclosure so the coyote I see walking along my wall won’t eat my pets. They are not afraid of the measly weapons that bring people to the battlefield – our air horns and golf clubs and tin cans clinking with coins. These coyotes roam the streets in packs, like unrepentant crooks looking for a target.

I’ve always loved my corner of the suburbs with its mix of canyon trails and malls. But now it feels like I’m living in a war zone. The coyotes are an invading force, and for now, they’re calling the shots.

Across the country, animal rights activists are warning people to protect their pets during coyote mating season, which runs from January through March. During this time, the males are particularly courageous and aggressive. And they’re less afraid to enter populated neighborhoods like mine, where hunting is easy, with cats roaming free and dogs hanging around in backyards.

And yes, I know we created this predicament. The hills above us were open and wild when my family moved here 35 years ago. And although our streets still have “Horse Trail” and “Wildpassing” signs, exploding development has pushed the animals out of their habitat and into ours.

And the longer they hang around, the more comfortable coyotes become with humans. Decades ago, they were afraid of our din. Now they seem brazenly studying us.

I’ve sought advice from wildlife experts over the years: How can we keep coyotes from making our block their territory? The answer is always the same. Whether they go or not depends on our willingness to be moderately cruel; consistently muddling them until they’re too uncomfortable to stick around.

But now there’s a caveat: coyotes have become part of the urban landscape. They meander through Hollywood tourist spots, roam the VA hospital grounds, and hang out in grocery store parking lots. It turns out to be difficult to remove them.

So my two small dogs are locked away for now while I consider what it takes to calm my own anxiety.

I’ve sprayed our yard with wolf urine, boarded up the dog door, and put flashing red “predator eyes” on fences and trees around my home. My backyard is lit up like the Rose Bowl every night. And my dogs are no longer allowed to play outside alone.

I don’t even dare walk with them without arming myself: rocks in my left pocket, an air horn in my right, and a long metal pole not holding a leash in my hand.

It’s scary and exhausting. Just as not leaving the house without sanitizer and masks had finally become second nature to me, I needed to add another type of heightened vigilance to protect myself from yet another unpredictable scourge.

Like COVID, coyotes are a force of nature. We cannot defeat them. Instead, we have to adapt to the problems they cause, and we tend to hold onto both for the long haul.

And just as politics divides us over vaccines and masks, our circumstances are shaping our response to the threats of the coyote wave.

The arguments play out regularly on my local Nextdoor feed, with pet ownership as the dividing line between two extremes: leave the coyotes alone; You were here first. Or arm yourself with bear spray and BB guns.

I think we can all agree that from afar, coyotes can be exciting to listen to and fascinating to watch. But up close, they can make our vulnerability chillingly acute.

I’d like to think that the coyote threat will diminish as the mating season ends, but two years of COVID has taught me not to get my hopes up. We think we’ve turned the corner, then comes Omicron — or in this case, the coyote I saw leap over an 8-foot fence with ease last week. Banks: Coyote mating season is causing trouble in my neighborhood

Tom Vazquez

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