It was about 10:30 Wednesday evening when 35-year-old Craig Fowler heard some aggressive barking in the back yard of his San Rafael Hills home. He was used to noisy dogs in the neighborhood, but something about this particular racket struck him as odd. He ran outside and saw a large, white dog and a small, cat-sized coyote, facing off in his pool.
The dog “was in the water basically circling the baby coyote,” Fowler says. “They were both nipping at each other.”
The pool is under construction, so it had only two or three feet of water in it, Fowler says, but that was enough to force the coyote into an exhausting cycle of submersion. “Every time the coyote would come up for air, [the dog] would just kind of nip at it.”
This wasn't Fowler's first glimpse of the coyote. Fowler had developed an affinity for the animal over the prior week and a half as the pup made itself at home under a shady bougainvillea tree on his property. Fowler had even given him a name: Howler.
Fowler desperately tried to distract the dog from the flailing coyote. When that didn’t work, he attempted to shoo the dog away with a broom, but the broomstick wasn’t long enough to reach it. Finally, he got his hands on a pool skimmer and managed to push the dog away from the coyote. But it was too late.
“By that time the coyote had gone under and didn’t come back,” Fowler says.
For days, Fowler had tried to help the coyote. He first noticed it when it showed up with another coyote that appeared to be its sibling. After the other coyote disappeared, Howler continued to make appearances in Fowler’s back yard each day. Fowler began leaving water out for it.
“He’d come and go and kind of do his own thing, but he was pretty consistent,” Fowler says. “You see this animal and you feel somewhat responsible for it.”
Summer is prime time for pup sightings, as coyotes typically give birth in the spring, says Duane Tom, director of animal care at the California Wildlife Center. Most newborn coyotes stay with their mother for eight to 12 months. Tom reviewed a photo of Howler and confirmed it was in fact a pup (they typically have softer, more orange-hued fur). He says the coyote most likely got separated from its family, couldn’t find its way back and took shelter in Fowler’s yard.
Migrating from the hills into residential neighborhoods, coyotes are regularly spotted in broad daylight across the city. Last year, KCET mapped coyote sightings based on calls to L.A. Animal Services, and the data showed that in 2013 there were five times as many calls as there were in 2010 (although numbers have decreased slightly since 2013).
Tom says the surge in coyotes in the city had a lot to do with the drought. As resources dry up in coyotes' normal habitats, they’re forced to head to urban terrain to forage for food and water. Most aren’t a danger to humans, he says. “Very rarely would they ever attack a person. They would take somebody’s cat or small dog if it’s off leash and running around. They just see it as another [type of] prey, as they’d see a rabbit or a rat or something like that.”
Yet the number of coyote attacks on people in L.A. County has increased over the last few years as well, from just two in 2011 to 16 in 2016, a Los Angeles Times editorial points out. As a result, some cities have launched educational campaigns to teach residents how to safeguard pets from a coyote attack. Others have taken more aggressive measures. After a coyote mauled a dog in Glendora earlier this year, the city introduced a “trap-and-kill” initiative; a month later, the city of Arcadia followed suit.
Fowler had a different plan. He began posting Facebook videos of the pup, captioning them with phrases like “Morning with my bud” and posing questions to his social media sphere on what to do with Howler (named after Fowler’s graphic design studio). As he got a closer look at the coyote, Fowler realized he appeared to have mange and set out to find a rescue organization that could help him.
This is where things got complicated.
Up until 1994, Los Angeles Animal Services would trap and euthanize wayward coyotes, but it has since stopped the practice and now maintains a hands-off approach toward wildlife in general. According to a policy outlined on its website, Animal Services uses “neighborhood education and individual homeowner attention” to address wildlife issues and has no “laws, policies or mandates requiring the department to remove native wildlife.”
While Animal Services doesn’t typically respond to coyote sightings, the agency will send an officer if there are unusual circumstances, such as an injured or orphaned coyote, according to Mark Salazar, director of field operations.
“If the animal can be rehabbed, we will pick it up and transport it to a location that can care for the animal,” he says via email. “Sadly, if the animal is severely injured, it may be euthanized by firearm in the field by the responding officer.”
There are many animal rescue organizations in and around L.A., but many won’t pick up coyotes unless they’re seriously sick. Fowler called the ASPCA about the pup, and someone was dispatched to his house, but upon his arrival the coyote fled, and the wrangler left soon after.
“I felt very responsible for it in the sense that I didn’t want to hand it over to someone who was just going to euthanize it or harm it,” Fowler says.
He says he and his girlfriend wish something could have been done to help relocate the coyote — which would have saved its life. Fowler's final Facebook post about the ordeal stated: “What a shit end to such a sweet little coyote.”
“After the whole thing happened, we were just sitting in the house completely shell-shocked,” Fowler says. “Having it end that way is pretty traumatic.”