The cat-killers of Los Osos

by Bill Monson


Los Osos is a small community just south of Morro Bay, California. It has spectacular views of the bay and Morro Rock, an old lava plug which rises 575 feet out of the Pacific to serve as sentinel to the bay's entrance. Behind Los Osos, high hills roll off toward Montana del Oro, now a state park, once a secluded cove where bootleggers landed their cargoes for the central coast. The community is so rural it has spent the last few years arguing, voting and litigating about creating a sewer district and building a sewage treatment plant to serve its burgeoning population. (Right now, it's planned to put the plant in the center of town next to a school and the public library--but that's another story...!) Residents currently use septic tanks, but there's credible evidence that the tanks are leaking into the bay--and Los Osos is very ecology-conscious.

Another thing the residents are touchy about is their pets. So when family cats began disappearing along Ferrell Avenue, residents there suspected a revenge plot by some disgruntled sewer opponent.

A plaintive letter appeared in the local papers. Xeroxed posters appeared on poles and community bulletin boards pleading for the return of beloved felines. Soon, the trickle of letters and posters became a torrent. Dozens of cats had disappeared throughout Los Osos. Some had not come back after potty trips to neighbors' yards. Some had vanished right off the patios and decks of homes. Then Lois Thompson found her cat's breakaway collar-- but no trace of the cat. Eventually, an early morning jogger found the remains of a furry animal--which proved to be a cat. Judy Jones' cat disappeared June 21. A week or so later, she saw the probable culprit in a neighbor's backyard just before sunset.

A coyote.

The inevitable overlap of California's exploding human population with native wildlife was behind the mystery. Suburban-minded people put their bowls of water and pet food on their patios for their pets; and skunks, possums, and raccoons came down from the hills to snack at this new lunch bar. Naturally, coyotes came along to eat, too--on them--with an occasional cat for variety. Los Osos found itself in a new quandary. You can shoot coyotes in California but not within a residential area or high fire risk zone--which pretty much includes all of Los Osos. Poison and traps are forbidden, too--especially leg traps. So the coyotes are riding high on the food chain-- for the time being. (There may also be mountain lions out in those hills!)

San Luis Obispo County has a paid trapper, but he can't begin to handle all the reports he gets. And coyotes are tough to catch. The trapper says, "He's definitely the smartest one out there, and will do anything to stay alive. He's not doing something wrong; he's just doing what he does best."

In fact, the statewide coyote population is actually growing because of the easy availability of this new food and water source. Backyard cats and small dogs are coyote McDonald burgers and fries.

Right now, all the pet owners of Los Osos can do is keep their animals indoors--which does not make either pet or owner happy (and often doesn't do a whole lot for the carpets, furniture and smell of the home, either!) And in the rugged, rolling hills south of Los Osos, the coyotes reign supreme. You can even hear them laughing on moonlit nights.