MID-CITY — Paula Minardi could hardly believe her eyes.

There, on the 1300 block of Santa Monica Boulevard between Stanford and Yale streets, was a coyote.

“It had pointy ears and I told myself, ‘This is not just your average dog,’” Minardi said.

It seemed impossible that the wild creature would venture so far into the heart of urban Santa Monica, but the mutilated cat remains she found later confirmed her sighting, as did reports from other neighbors that walk their dogs in the early hours of the morning.

Andrew Hughnan, public information officer for the Department of Fish and Game in the Southern California region, doubts the feral canine was happy to come down from the mountain canyons surrounding Santa Monica, but the city represents a smorgasbord of food options for an enterprising creature.

Coyotes weigh in at about 40 pounds, or the size of a mid-sized dog. They are strong for their stature, capable of jumping fences and using their long snouts and vicious-looking teeth to snatch dog food or, potentially, a little dog.

“Coyotes are everywhere, in every county and every community,” Hughnan said. “There’s no real rhyme or reason why they would be popping out now, but like all wild animals, it’s about food sources.”

They come out in the pre-dawn and dusk for their raids, which is often the time that pet owners will let their dogs, cats or other animals out for an evening romp.

Don’t do it, Hughnan said, or if you do, keep an eye on your animal.

“They’re most active first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I don’t recommend leaving pets out around dinner time,” Hughnan said. “If you do let them outside, get a lawn chair and commune with your dog as it runs around.”

The same goes for small children and toddlers, which don’t threaten the canines as much as their parental minders.

Those that take their dogs out for morning and evening walks should still keep their wits about them and keep an eye on their surroundings, both in front and behind, Hughnan said.

Despite the dire warnings, very few people get bitten by coyotes, and only one person in California in the last 40 years has died as a result of a coyote attack.

According to the Humane Society of America, more people get killed by “errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.”

Those are pretty good odds, which are only improved by taking common sense precautions.

The animals come into neighborhoods looking for food. Eliminate that temptation by securing trash cans, bringing in pet food and not allowing small, vulnerable pets to wander on their lonesome, and the coyote “problem” will fix itself, Hughnan said.

If a person does see a coyote, they should call the non-emergency number of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s station in Marina del Rey at (310) 823-7762 or Malibu at (818) 878-1808.

Calling 9-1-1 from a cell phone will route to the California Highway Patrol, which probably won’t be able to connect with a game warden quickly enough to deal with the problem, Hughnan said.

The experience was an eye-opener for Minardi, who called around to Animal Control to educate herself on how to make sure her dauschund mix, Rita, stayed safe.

“I think it’s an important wake-up call that we do live within dynamic wildlife,” Minardi said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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