LA Animal Services’ Brenda Barnette: Hiding the Truth about Coyote Attacks and Rabies, or Clueless?

ANIMAL WATCH

ANIMAL WATCH-On May 24, Councilman Joe Buscaino introduced a motion instructing LA Animal Services to make recommendations to “further control the coyote population in the City’s residential neighborhoods.” He seemed to be commendably addressing demands of his constituents, horrified by coyotes killing beloved companion cats and dogs, alarming mothers with children, and lounging menacingly in front yards.  

However, his recent submission to the Council File makes us wonder if -- and why -- the Councilman is back-pedaling about the severity of coyote dangers in Los Angeles and possibly making a joke of it. Could the strong advocacy claims that contend coyotes were here first and just want peaceful coexistence have influenced the former LAPD officer’s bravado? This may have some 15th District voters rethinking their choice for Council in the upcoming election. 

At the August 3 meeting of the Council’s Personnel and Animal Welfare (PAW) Committee, chaired by Councilman Paul Koretz, Buscaino had the opportunity to submit credible local and national scientific research (reference to which has also been placed in the file by concerned residents) providing options for encouraging coyotes to move away from busy central locations and densely populated areas of the city and to assure education regarding rabies in the event of an attack on a human or pet -- something LA. Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette seems unwilling to do. 

Instead, Councilman Buscaino, who earns almost $200,000 a year plus other generous monetary perks, submitted a Wonkblog chart, citing its sources as: “CDC reports, CDC WONDER database, Wikipedia, Florida Museum of Natural History.” On it, cartoonish caricatures represent statistics on animal-caused human fatalities in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013 (other than by coyotes).

The assortment of “killers” includes cow faces and explains, “…cows killed about twenty people a year in the mid-2000s. That makes cows about 20 times as lethal as sharks.” 

It also shows dog faces (all resembling Pit Bulls) and says they have killed 28 people during the same period.

Is this supposed to make Angelenos feel more comfortable that coyotes have, thus far, merely eaten their pets? Is this is where the Councilman gains his wisdom for managing city challenges? 

LA Animal Services’ General Manager Brenda Barnette also demonstrated her failure to take the Councilman’s motion seriously by reporting to the Animal Services Commission on August 9 with a smile and a chuckle that Councilman Buscaino agreed other animals were more deadly than coyotes but is still worried about leaving his dog in his back yard. 

Buscaino has the opportunity and obligation to demand the public be informed on the realities of the increasing boldness and danger of coyote attacks, which are now including humans across the country, and insist that the romanticized fairy tale of living with wildlife also provides full disclosure of the health and safety aspects. 

Montebello Closes Park after Three Coyote Attacks on Humans 

Attacks on three people within eight miles of downtown Los Angeles caused Montebello officials to close down Grant Rea Park on August 9, 2016, until the errant coyote(s) could be located. Andrew Hughan, information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the LA Times, “People are not food for coyotes.”  

Two victims were forced to seek treatment for possible exposure to rabies. The first attack, a teenage girl, occurred July 22. A coyote came up and bit her on the leg while she was sitting alone in the park, and then made off with her shoe, Hughan said.

The girl’s mother told CBSLA her daughter was given a rabies shot, antibiotics and will forever be scarred. “She has a claw. She has three teeth marks on the top of her foot and bottom. So he latched her,” Marie Ruvalcava explained. 

The second attack was August 6, about a block from the park. A man lying on his back working underneath a car in his driveway was bitten on the leg and threw a wrench to scare the coyote away. He had eight puncture wounds and was taken to the hospital for wound care and post-exposure rabies treatment. 

A homeless man was later attacked while searching through trash cans in the park. He sustained 19 puncture wounds on his legs, according to reports. He was also treated for rabies, although authorities did not know if the coyotes were infected.  

“The most ‘unbelievable’ case is the third one, because the man was standing and making lots of noise,” Officer Hughan told the Times, (This contradicts the widely held theory that “hazing” -- waving your arms and making noise -- is the ultimate deterrent to an approaching coyote.) 

Wildlife officers reportedly shot and killed five coyotes at the park and sent them for testing. They also will help educate the public in prevention techniques. 

Coyote Who Bit Father Protecting his Children Tests Positive for Rabies 

On August 1, 2016, a coyote that bit a father’s leg as he protected his two daughters from attack in Lincoln Borough, PA, tested positive for rabies, Allegheny County confirmed. The man has started rabies treatment. 

The victim told Pittsburgh Action News 4, "the coyote's teeth went through denim jeans, into skin." 

Coyote that Bit Person in Roswell Tests Positive for Rabies 

A rabid coyote that bit a person on July 11, 2016, has been captured in Roswell, GA, and euthanized. It tested positive for rabies, according to the North Fulton News. (The victim’s identity was protected.) 

Coyote attacks NJ man walking dog; 2nd attack in county in month 

A coyote attacked a New Jersey man walking his dog on a Norwood road and then ran away —this was the second attack in Bergen County in April 2015, according to WABC.  Officials weren’t sure if the coyote had rabies, but the victim was given rabies treatment (which consists of 3 to 5 shots.)  He and his dog are both recovering. 

Earlier in April, a coyote that tested positive for rabies attacked a 77-year-old Bergen County man and his dog in Saddle Brook. He was treated for leg injuries and given rabies post-exposure vaccine.  

His dog, a Labrador retriever named Jack, needed 30 stitches to close his wounds and was quarantined for six months because his rabies shot was not current. 

Rhode Island Woman Bitten by Coyote Proven Positive for Rabies 

A woman was treated for possible rabies exposure after she was bitten by a coyote at a Warwick apartment complex.  

Patti Elderkin told NBC 10 News on August 9, 2016, that the coyote approached her and her two Pug dogs, and bit her right leg, causing her to fall. The coyote then bit her other leg while she was on the ground. 

She said she received four shots at the ER that night, including starting the rabies series, and had to go back for more. 

Police shot and killed a coyote at the complex that tested positive for rabies and believe it is the one that bit Elderkin, but Health Department authorities said there's no 100 percent certainty. 

Another resident told NBC10  he was in his car Monday morning at the same apartment complex when a coyote approached the front of his car and bit the bumper, commenting that the coyote had no fear of him or the car. 

Jogger in San Diego Bitten by Coyote Receives Rabies Shots 

On December 1, 2015, a female jogger was bitten by a coyote in the Kensington area of San Diego. "All of a sudden, I feel something bite my leg," Janet Snook told 10News, "I look down, and you know, it's a coyote." 

She said she turned to run backwards and face the coyote, while she screamed, yelled and waved her arms, and made as much noise as possible but the coyote would stop briefly and then kept running toward her. 

Snook drove herself to an urgent care facility for wound treatment and post-exposure rabies shots. "Even if it's a mild kind of abrasion, you still can have micro tears in the skin," she said. 

The Department of Fish and Wildlife told 10News it considered the coyote a public threat and planned to remove it from the area. 

And, lest we forget, the most common victims in the news of coyote attacks are pets we love and cherish. 

Brookside killing of pet dog prompts coexistence questions.” 

A poignant Tulsa World article on August 5, 2016, about the growing presence of coyotes in central Tulsa was subtitled, “Brookside killing of pet dog prompts coexistence questions.” It describes Sean Phillips witnessing a coyote kill a small dog. 

It’s a scene not often witnessed but not unusual in cities across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles…I heard a commotion and this little dog ran into view,”  (Sean) Phillips said. “It was little, black and white, maybe a Maltese or something like that, and a full-grown coyote came up from behind and grabbed it and shook it. That killed it. It was still and it didn’t yelp anymore, and the coyote trotted off across the road to the river.” 

“[When] the animals adapt to areas closer to the center of town, questions and controversy arise about how close is too close,” Tulsa World asks. 

HOW SERIOUS A THREAT IS RABIES TO HUMANS? 

It is important to emphasize that attacks on humans -- until now -- have been extremely rare; however, predators, including coyotes, have not been as pervasive in urban communities. Although they have historically lived quietly on the outskirts of cities and in natural habitat areas and adjoining parklands, with occasional treks into inhabited areas, “coexistence” has not included daytime strolls down busy streets or hunting expeditions in the yards of highly populated areas. There is no question that “urban coyotes” have lost their fear of humans, but their aggressive behavior may also be attributed to illness, including rabies, experts say. 

“Human rabies encephalitis acquired from dogs and other terrestrial mammals remains 100% fatal,” writes Mary Warrell, faculty member of F-1000 Neurological Disorders. “The unvaccinated patient who recovered from rabies encephalitis in the USA was bitten by a bat. The distinct group of bat rabies viruses in the Americas have proved less pathogenic than dog viruses.” 

A FEW FAQ’s ABOUT RABIES IN HUMANS 

Rabies is an infectious disease that is caused by a virus and can enter the body at any break in the victim’s skin, usually a bite by an infected animal, or through the mucous membranes in the mouth, eyes or nose and travel to the brain. 

The rabies virus infection leads to acute viral encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord) and ultimately, death. 

In humans, symptoms usually develop after three to eight weeks. In some cases, symptoms have appeared as early as nine days and as long as seven years after exposure. 

If you are bitten or scratched by an unknown animal, wash the wound (or mucous membrane) immediately with soap and water and remove any clothing that may be contaminated with saliva. Contact your doctor or go to a local emergency room. Rabies can be prevented in humans with the administration of a post-exposure rabies treatment, or prophylaxis, as soon as possible following an exposure. 

WHY HASN’T BRENDA BARNETTE PROVIDED THIS INFORMATION? 

A search of the LA Animal Services’ website showed only ONE mention of rabies in conjunction with getting a vaccination to license your dog. 

The Wildlife Section and “Encounters with Coyotes” brochure also does not mention dangers of rabies. In fact, after stating, “Do not attempt to pet or otherwise make physical contact with wildlife. Coyotes are wild animals and should be treated as such,” it shows a photo of an Animal Control Officer holding a young coyote against his/her chest with a bare hand! Which message is the stronger? 

The report provided to the PAW committee by LA Animal Services contains no “plan” to protect residents or their pets from coyotes. It is merely a re-hash of information that has been collected by various Wildlife Officers over the past several decades. During that span, the problems of unimpeded, rapidly increasing urban coyotes has escalated. That fact is being denied by GM Brenda Barnette. 

Her Plan does not mention the interaction of coyotes with the homeless and their citywide encampments, where food is stored in tents and disposed of at the most convenient location. It does not include education and outreach to the communities of low-income immigrants in the central city who walk with young children and small dogs in areas where the smell of freshly cooking meat by street vendors permeates the air and open trash cans overflow. 

The tired documents presented as a Coyote Management Plan -- and not seriously questioned by the PAW committee -- are merely the history and guide to how this problem has grown and how city government has enabled it. Without serious intent to diminish the sources of the problem, it is obvious the PAW committee, and now possibly Councilman Buscaino, are merely kicking the can down the road. 

NOTE: Rabies is often transmitted by other mammals, such as coyotes, being bitten by infected bats. The increase in rabid bats in Los Angeles County indicated in this chart should be considered in any study of wildlife policy for this area.                                                                     

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com.  She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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