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Coyotes bring concern to residents

"Rebecca Sobus no longer lets her 4-year-old pick up the newspaper from their walkway while she watches from the front door. Sobus, 38, doesn't allow her two oldest children, 7 and 10, to walk to the school bus stop by themselves either. And when dusk starts to settle, she makes sure Rainbow the cat comes inside for the night.You're a lot more cautious. You look around a lot more, Sobus said. It's almost like living with a serial killer in the neighborhood.For months, Sobus and her neighbors have lived in fear of coyotes. Now, with the city's recent capture of a large male coyote believed to be the head of the pack, they are breathing easier, though many remain worried they'll hear the familiar howl of the wild creatures again.That howl is being heard more frequently as humans develop into areas typically inhabited by coyotes. Coyotes, in return, move into human neighborhoods, enticed by pet food, garbage and other easy meals left outside people's homes.To date, there have been no documented coyote attacks on humans in the Pacific Northwest, said Russell Link, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. But the wild canines can easily disrupt the tranquility of a neighborhood. The suburban coyotes tend to be great scavengers of whatever is available, including pets, said Tom Keegan, section manager for upland game and fur bearers for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. That's the biggest conflict. ... Small dogs and cats are prime quarry for coyotes. It's usually up to neighborhoods to take care of the problem. The Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Department of Agriculture offer trapper information to neighborhoods. But the former won't pick up the tab unless there's a threat to human safety and the latter won't unless livestock are being threatened, say Keegan and John Houben, district supervisor for Western Washington for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.Any coyotes trapped are typically euthanized, Keegan said.The question is where can you take them where they're not somebody else's problem? he asked. Sobus quickly realized coyotes were a problem in her neighborhood. Shortly after she and her family moved to the neighborhood in March, a neighbor told her about a coyote in her yard one day at 4 a.m. Sobus dismissed the incident as a solitary case of a coyote looking for water. By the end of May, residents of this neighborhood, off 344th Street near the border of Federal Way and Northeast Tacoma, realized the problem was serious. Coyotes were being spotted at all hours. In fact, one morning Sobus' husband chased away a coyote that had cornered a cat under a car. At least two cats disappeared - the victims, their owners believe, of coyotes.Some residents, including Sobus, believe the coyotes used to live in the woods that have since been destroyed for a new park and ride on 21st Street Southwest and moved to the neighborhood as a result. A few months ago, several hunters who live in the neighborhood began talking about entering a nearby green belt and shooting any coyotes they found. Sobus and a neighbor called the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and officials said, If they come in your yard just shoot them. Under the city code, it's unlawful for any person to knowingly discharge a firearm in the city. A few exceptions exist - for law enforcement officers, for example - but people can't shoot errant wildlife that wanders into their neighborhood, said police spokesman Brett Hatfield.Not in Federal Way, Hatfield said.So Sobus sought alternatives. Neighbors balked at the $80 fee for a trapper to set a trap in the green belt. They found help in Jon Jainga, the city's parks planner, who came out and set a trap in the woods near the neighborhood at no cost. The trap just caught a male coyote. They think it was the ringleader, Sobus said. Since they caught this male, nobody's heard them. Nobody's seen them.Sobus says she's happy with the animal's capture and impressed by Jainga's efforts to help out the neighborhood - Jon kept calling me every day: 'We'll take care of it.' But she says the coyote problem cost her a great pet and peace of mind.About a month ago, Velvet, the family's 11-month-old black cat, never came home after a day outside. That night, the coyotes' howls seemed worse than ever.I knew a coyote had got her, she said. When they caught an animal, they will howl.The family wants to get another cat, but is holding off until it's certain the coyotes have gone. Neighbor Margaret Medina and her family understand that caution. The Medinas' 8-month-old tabby kitten, Noah, didn't return home one August evening. Other people have offered us a cat but I said, 'No,' Medina said. The same thing might happen.Somebody had seen a coyote in the family's yard a few weeks before at night. Medina's 11-year-old son, Mike, begged his mom, Don't let Noah out. Medina says the cat was used to going out by then so she let him out. She felt guilty when he never returned.Once we lost the cat, I told other people, 'Don't let your cats out of the house' because of this, she said.Medina says her son was heart-broken over the cat, keeping a veritable shrine of photos beside his bed. Mike says he misses the loving cat, which won over even the non-cat lovers in his family, but says he is happy the lead coyote has been caught. It makes me feel a little better, he said. I know some other friends that still have cats. It makes me feel better that they'll probably be safe a little longer.---------------Coyote facts* The coyote is a member of the dog family and resembles, in size and shape, a medium-sized collie. It weighs between 15 and 45 pounds.* It is one of the few wild animals whose vocalizations are commonly heard. Coyotes howl (a high quavering cry) and emit a series of short, high-pitched yips. * Native Americans refer to the coyote as little wolf. It is the subject of many Native American folklore tales. * Coyotes mate for life. They breed between January and March. They usually dig their own dens, but sometimes they use an old badger hole or fix up a natural hole. Dens are usually hidden from view.* Coyotes can live up to 15 years in the wild, feeding on small mammals, insects, reptiles, fruit and carrion. * To prevent urban coyotes from getting cats and small dogs, close your gates tightly, do not leave pet food outside and do not leave small pets outside unaccompanied. "

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