FRANKLIN STREET — There was ringing and then silence.
Mary Mascarenas heard it from her bedroom, awakening to the sound of Cookie the cat sprinting in the backyard, the bell on its collar ringing in a frantic call for help.
It was still early in the morning yet the pet owner knew something was awry, looking out the front door and seeing a coyote across the street, carrying the captured feline in its mouth.
Then before her eyes, the coyote snapped Cookie’s neck.
“I had seen that coyote before,” Mascarenas said about the attack on Sept. 13 outside her home in the 1500 block of Franklin Street. “I had seen him a couple of months ago in the morning, walking on the sidewalk.”
Coyotes have, over the past year, been seen making a gradual progression into the heart of Santa Monica, spotted in the western part of Santa Monica Canyon in the spring of 2008 and more recently in the northwestern corner of the city.
There have been more than 30 sightings — half a dozen of which since August — and 11 dead cats picked up in the past year.
“They use the natural paths in order to get to our city,” Santa Monica Police Department’s Lt. PJ Guido said.
The coyotes have been frequently spotted in Mascarenas’ neighborhood in the eastside of town, posters hanging on trees asking for the public’s help in finding missing cats, dead or alive.
“There’s a cat I used to see here in the alley every day,” she said. “I don’t see it anymore.”
Coyotes are considered to be highly adaptable, able to live on food in virtually any type of open space, whether it be rural or urban, finding food in everything from the rodents on the street to garbage.
“One of the reasons why coyote populations can be substantial in suburban areas is due to the availability for prospective food,” Kyle Orr, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, said.
The SMPD has stepped up patrol in the north and eastern parts of the city as a result of the coyote sightings, checking throughout the day.
Several coyotes have also been trapped over the course of the year, some of which were already dead, apparently struck by a car. Some coyotes, if alive, are taken to the hospital and may be euthanized depending on their health.
Wildlife experts suggested that residents keep a tight lid on their trash cans and bring their pets, which are often easy targets for coyotes, as well as their food indoors. Brush and dense weeds around properties should also be cleared since they can house rodents, which attract coyotes.
They can also be a threat to small children if the coyote is conditioned to have no fear of humans, said Ken Pellman, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures.
He said that coyotes are a great part of the ecosystem because they keep the rodent population in check.
“Obviously if a coyote is not afraid of people and is threatening to people, then there is a problem,” he said.
What residents should not do is intentionally feed the coyotes. Guido said the animal control shelter has received multiple calls since August with reports of people feeding coyotes.
A 45-year resident of the city, Mascarenas is also doing her part to warn neighbors to keep their pets inside.
She tried to make Cookie, a 6-year-old stray, an indoor cat, but found that he couldn’t stay confined within the house for more than two hours.
Mascarenas was always afraid that the cat would get run over. Instead, he met his demise another way.
“That cat put up a big fight, though,” she said. “He defended himself.”