Ventura County Animal Services officials are warning pet owners that the drought is bringing wildlife, especially predators, deeper into local neighborhoods in their search for food and water, which can result in tragedy for four-legged friends.
"Due to drought and climate change, wildlife is moving closer to urban areas," said Randy Friedman, spokesperson for the agency.
Friedman warned that predators are bolder, often coming into neighborhoods that are farther from open spaces where wildlife interactions are most anticipated.
Nancy Broschart found out the hard way. On June 25, she lost her beloved cat, Ahi.
"I never dreamed they were coming down here," she said, referring to the Pierpont neighborhood on Ventura's coast.
Ahi, a black-and-white tuxedo shorthair, was a neighborhood character, said Broschart. He used the doggy door to let himself out so he could cat about. In the six years she had him, he always came home for meals.
When Ahi didn't show up for breakfast that day, she posted on social media that her cat was missing.
She received a call from the animal services division the following day. A neighbor had seen a coyote with a cat in its mouth. He had gotten the animal to drop the cat, but it was too late. Ahi was dead.
The neighbor called animal services. Because Ahi had a microchip, the agency was able to contact Broschart to tell her of Ahi's demise.
"I was shocked," she said. "We have been hearing about coyote attacks closer to the hillsides. If I had known that they were all the way into Pierpont, I would have made different choices."
Friedman had some advice for pet owners who want to protect their animals.
First, he said, do not leave any food outside that will attract wildlife. This includes fallen fruit, trash and pet food. Trash cans should be tightly sealed. Food is the "biggest takeaway," he said.
A public service flyer on coyote management released by the agency also cautions never to feed wild animals. Doing so, it says "encourages predators to move increasingly closer."
Move animals indoors at dawn and dusk, in particular, Friedman said. That is when predators are most active. To them, pets are food.
"We recommend that all cats be indoor only. For the 'outdoor experience,' consider a 'catio,'" he said. A catio is an outdoor enclosure where cats can step outside and still be safe.
If you encounter wildlife, the agency recommends "hazing." Methods include waving arms and yelling loudly, using a horn, whistle or humane repellents — such as water guns or pepper spray — to frighten predators. Hazing is not meant to harm, only to deter behavior from becoming habitual.
Report close contact with a wild animal and seek medical attention if necessary. You can reach Ventura County Animal Services at 805-388-4341.
"Maybe Ahi's death won't be in vain if we can save someone else's cat," Broschart said.
Victoria Talbot is a courts and breaking news reporter with The Star. Reach her at email@example.com or 805-437-0258.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Ventura County officials warn of heightened coyote threat to pets