The reign of terror in my Northridge neighborhood began with manic dog barking, eerie coyote howls and the high-pitched screams of an animal fighting for its life in the middle of the night.
I hoped it was coming from the nearby canyon, which teems with wildlife. But early the next morning, as I was walking my dog, I came across the unmistakable sight of animal remains on the sidewalk near my house.
I hightailed it home and busied myself trying to not think about what that might portend. But the next morning, when I looked out my kitchen window, I saw a coyote standing in my driveway, looking around expectantly for another meal.
I ran out in pajamas, screaming and waving my arms so I would look large. I grabbed my water hose and blasted him with a jet stream, which had always worked in the past. But this coyote did not budge; he just stood there staring back at me.
Even when my neighbor came out, clanging his metal baseball bat, the coyote seemed undaunted. When another one emerged from a nearby yard, the two of them casually sauntered off, glancing back at us nonchalantly as we followed them down the block.
Over the four weeks since then, hardly a day has gone by when I didn’t see a coyote — scaling a fence to scour backyards, trotting down the street with a cat in its mouth, or eyeballing us when I’m in my front yard with the dogs.
I used to roll my eyes at the precautions some neighbors took when random sightings of coyotes occurred. They built enclosures for their pets, clothed their dogs in spiky vests and spent lavishly to fortify their yards.
Now I’m the one searching the internet for directions on how to build a pen, so the coyote I’ve spotted walking along my brick wall doesn’t make a meal of my pets. They are not afraid of the puny weapons humans bring to the battlefield — our air horns and golf clubs and tin cans rattling with coins. These coyotes are roving the streets in packs, like unrepentant hoodlums looking for a mark.
I have always loved my corner of the suburbs, with its mix of canyon trails and shopping malls. But now it feels like I’m living in a war zone. The coyotes are an invading force, and at the moment, they are calling the shots.
Across the country, wildlife officials warn people to protect their pets during coyote mating season, which lasts from January to March. During that period, the males are particularly bold and aggressive. And they are less afraid to enter populated neighborhoods like mine, where the hunting is easy, with free-roaming cats and dogs hanging out in backyards.
And yes, I know we created this dilemma. The hills above us were open and wild when my family moved here 35 years ago. And while our streets still sport “horse trail” and “deer crossing” signs, the animals have been forced out of their habitat and into ours by exploding development.
And the longer they hang around, the more comfortable with humans coyotes become. Decades ago, they were frightened by our bluster. Now they seem to be brazenly studying us.
I’ve sought counsel from wildlife experts over the years: How can we deter coyotes from making our block their stomping ground? The answer is always the same. Whether or not they leave depends on our willingness to be moderately cruel; to haze them consistently until they are too uncomfortable to stick around.
But now there’s a caveat: Coyotes have become part of the urban landscape. They’re strolling through Hollywood tourist spots, roaming the VA Hospital grounds and hanging around grocery store parking lots. It’s proving to be difficult to dislodge them.
So my two small dogs are on lockdown for now, while I figure out what it will take to quiet my own anxiety.
I’ve sprayed our yard with wolf urine, boarded up the doggy door and posted flashing red “predator eyes” on fences and trees surrounding my house. My backyard is lit up like the Rose Bowl every night. And my dogs are not allowed to play outside alone anymore.
I don’t dare even walk them without arming myself: rocks in my left pocket, air horn in my right, and a long metal pole in whichever hand is not gripping a leash.
It’s scary and exhausting. Just when it had finally become second nature not to leave home without sanitizers and masks, I’ve had to add another kind of hyper-vigilance to protect against another unpredictable scourge.
Like COVID, coyotes are a force of nature. We can’t vanquish them. Instead we have to adapt to the problems they cause, and we’re apt to be stuck with both for the long haul.
And just as politics divides us over vaccines and masks, our circumstances shape our response to threats posed by the coyote surge.
The arguments play out regularly on my local Nextdoor feed, with pet ownership the dividing line between two extremes: Leave the coyotes alone; they were here first. Or arm yourself with bear spray and BB guns.
I think we can all agree that from a distance, coyotes can be thrilling to listen to and fascinating to watch. But up close, they can bring our vulnerability into terrifying focus.
I want to believe the coyote threat will diminish as mating season ends, but two years of COVID have 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 an eight-foot fence last week with ease.