July 11, 2008

Dangerous Visitor Has Settled in for Summer

By Claire Panosian Dunavan

LAST month, a new canine joined our clan -- in a manner of speaking.

I first spied the small, rangy coyote from my kitchen window. "Shoo!" I yelled, foolishly gesturing toward the driveway. He shot me an inscrutable stare, then bounded off in the opposite direction.

An hour later, he was back on the lawn, nosing fallen loquats. This time -- after seeing me -- he dashed past our living-room window.

He knows our house and yard, I suddenly realized. After living in a rustic Los Angeles neighborhood for close to a decade, my husband and I were used to periodic choruses, yips, and mushy leavings of Canis latrans.

But those visits and mementos were nocturnal. This was broad daylight. Plus the new interloper seemed determined to stay. Strange behavior indeed.

By then, our two small spaniels were pawing at the door. That's when I recalled the recent "lost dog" notice on our block. It offered a whopping $2,500 for the return of a mini- pinscher decked out (in happier times) in a jaunty plaid cravat. Ouch. Had the coyote snatched him?

I gritted my teeth, wrestled our pets into harnesses, then walked them outside on leashes.

The next day, my husband and I saw the coyote again. Afterward, whenever the intruder neared our house -- usually between midnight and 3 a.m. -- our male dog let loose a string of screechy barks and raced from room to room. "Let me at him! I can handle this!" Right.

The coyote was wild, desperate, and a threat to our pets. But he was also pitiful and alone -- a down-on-his-luck carnivore reduced to sneaking rotting fruit to stay alive. We couldn't help feeling sorry for him.

And so my husband devised a plan. We would lure the coyote with victuals, then relocate him far away. If the strategy worked, the coyote would find real food, rejoin a pack, and (most importantly) stop harassing humans and perritos off Mulholland Drive.

"Oh, it's definitely the way to go," assured the professional animal remover who came the next day in a van smelling of skunk. "If we catch him, we'll take him to Griffith Park. He'll have a much better chance of surviving there." My husband nodded. Griffith Park would be fine.

Patrick wrote a check while the man installed two rusty cages containing bowls of kibble, peanut butter and a secret condiment irresistible to canines.

Our male dog was certainly keen to sample the melange. One morning, after being briefly unattended, he had to be dragged out of the trap by his tail.

But the coyote remained unfazed. Night after night, he grazed on fruit while leaving his high-calorie bait untouched. A week later, we replaced it with canned dog food. This he also declined. Finally conceding defeat, we had the empty traps retrieved. By then, most of the loquats were off the tree, and our dogs had actually slept for two or three nights.

Well, he's finally moved on, we told ourselves with fingers crossed behind our backs.

A day later, a friend arrived at our house before dawn. He had come to dog-sit while we took a short trip. As soon as he turned off his engine, Tom saw our coyote -- a moonlit wraith with haunted eyes and quicksilver reflexes. In a flash, he was gone.

So much for cross-species glasnost. Now we're back to leashes and edgy co-habitation in the tough, suburban jungle of L.A.

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