Suzanne Armstrong and her band of volunteers are going door-to-door warning of a ‘coyote invasion,’ but not everyone’s biting
By Gary Walker
Suzanne Armstrong, like many Westchester residents these past few months, is worried about an increase in coyote sightings there and in neighboring Playa del Rey. And like so many of her neighbors, Armstrong wasn’t sure what to do about them until a neighbor told her about another dead pet on her block.
“I was out walking my dogs and she came up to me and said, ‘Watch your animals — a coyote just killed my cat,’” Armstrong said. “I had been hearing about coyotes on our streets and seeing pictures of cats and small dogs [that were] killed. As an animal lover, I was horrified.”
Sounding the alarm for what some in the community are calling a “coyote invasion,” Armstrong and a band of about 15 volunteers have taken to the streets to inform locals of coyote sightings day and night on residential streets.
In what’s become an almost daily exercise, they’ve crisscrossed homes from the Kentwood and Loyola Village neighborhoods of Westchester to the bluffs and flats of Playa del Rey, passing out flyers detailing the latest sightings with information from Los Angeles County Wildlife Services.
They’ve set up an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, for people to report coyote sightings and plotted those sightings—of them— on a Google map.
Last week they even took out an ad in The Argonaut stating that “extremely aggressive” coyotes have killed more than 20 dogs or cats over the past several months by their count.
Armstrong says she’s learned two things from the campaign — both of which left her distressed and motivated her to keep going.
“A lot of people weren’t aware of the coyote sightings in their neighborhoods, and some people think that we’re exaggerating the threat of the more aggressive coyotes,” said Armstrong, a commercial script supervisor who also works part-time for a Westchester real estate broker.
“I drive through neighborhoods and I see dogs off their leashes. We try to talk to people, but sometimes they don’t want to hear it,” she said.
During one of her initial efforts passing out flyers in Westchester, Armstrong was confronted by a man who asked her not to pass out flyers because his organization was planning community outreach. She suggested they work together, but he declined.
The reason: “He said my flyer was ‘too aggressive,’” Armstrong said.
Prior to publication of this story, another Westchester resident active in the community called The Argonaut to complain about Armstrong, saying her efforts have spread some misinformation and “inflamed a lot of people in the neighborhood.”
Los Angeles County Animal Services Officer Hoang Dinh, who addressed the issue during a community meeting in July, said multiple sightings of the same coyotes and the spread of anecdotal information can often lead to artificially inflated perceptions of their true number.
He recommended keeping small pets on leashes when walking them, walking pets in groups, keeping pet food out of reach of wildlife and above all never feeding coyotes, which is illegal. Coyotes, he said, are naturally afraid of humans and prefer to stay hidden most of the time.
But there have been cases were coyotes have not been shy about going after small pets — sometimes even when the owners are present.
As The Argonaut reported this summer, Playa del Rey resident Leanora Smith was bitten on the wrist by a coyote that went after her two small dogs while she was leaving her apartment near Paseo Del Rey Natural Science Magnet Elementary School.
“I appreciate and am gratified by the work that all volunteers are doing to educate the public about coyotes,” Smith said.
Although Dinh and other animal control experts discourage trapping coyotes — state law requires that coyotes trapped and removed from where they are found must be euthanized — Armstrong said state Fish and Wildlife officials should consider it because of what she and others say are abnormally aggressive tendencies among the coyotes in Westchester and Playa del Rey.
“I think it’s alarming to see so many pets that have been killed. We feel like we’re prisoners in our own homes. I’d like them to trap them and get the out of here,” Armstrong asserted.
Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench is planning a town hall meeting later this month because she has heard many of her constituents’ fears about coyotes.
“There’s clearly a threat and a concern. There are more missing cats and I believe there are more coyotes in our community,” she said.
Hench said social media sites such as nextdoor.com, where several locals have posted coyote sightings, can often have a mixed impact.
“If we didn’t have social media, I wouldn’t know about the coyotes. I’ve never seen one,” said Hench, who lives in Kentwood. “But social media can also exaggerate our perception. It has the power to exaggerate and inflame.”
Armstrong said she hopes her efforts have been helpful, but the coyotes don’t seem to be going away.
“My goal is to prevent more pets from being killed and more people from having their hearts broken,” she said.