The father of two young children spooked last Monday by the La Mesa Park coyote is asking City Hall to better deal with what some area residents feel is an increasingly dangerous situation.
The coyote, which took up residence in the park in August, got within 10 feet of Jason Gagne’s 2-year-old and 4-year-old on the playground. “They were really scared,” he said, noting four attacks on Irvine area children this summer.
In one incident, a 3-year-old girl was bitten on the back of the neck. In another, a 2-year-old boy was bitten on the knee. Nine coyotes were trapped and euthanized in connection with the Irvine attacks.
Santa Barbara officials say they’ve posted numerous signs and issued public pleas discouraging neighbors from feeding the Mesa coyote, which was most likely driven from city foothills by the drought. The hope is that without human-provided food, it will return to the wild on its own. Coyotes usually fear people but will become more bold and aggressive if they associate humans with mealtime. In a July Santa Barbara Independent cover story about animals and the drought, a Mesa resident admitted she enjoyed feeding the coyote raw chicken.
California law allows animals to be trapped by state, county, or city officials if they pose an imminent threat to public health or safety. But the relocation of coyotes is specifically prohibited, so if it was trapped, it would have to be euthanized, explained City Councilmember and Mesa resident Randy Rowse. Plus a trap might accidentally snare a pet cat or dog.
“In my time on the Mesa, I have seen coyotes in some of the neighborhoods, as well as other types of wildlife not normally associated with urban areas,” Rowse said in an email. “Unfortunately, some in the public tend to put food out, thinking that they are being humane, but actually exacerbating the issue.” The city will continue to monitor the situation, he said.
Gagne said he recently contacted animal control officers at the Santa Barbara Police Department and was told the situation would “most likely end with someone getting bitten.” A sergeant, he claimed, admitted he wouldn’t take his own kids to the park. Gagne also emailed all members of the City Council and received responses of support from three. One said he would have no problem advocating for euthanizing the coyote. The city administrator’s office has said it’s examining its legal options.
“I’m afraid that it will take a child being attacked to spark some kind of action,” said Gagne. “And once someone gets bit, they’ll have to put the coyote down. That’s not fair to the animal.”