Cats may be at risk from coyotes

Two years ago, Cupertino resident Laurie Taaffe adopted two kittens through a friend who was fostering them for the San Francisco SPCA. The littermates adapted well to their new home, settling in nicely with Taaffe’s two older cats and an indoor/outdoor lifestyle.

But in recent weeks, Taaffe has noticed some behavioral changes in Katherine, her youngest female cat. She had become testy around the older cats, sometimes hissing at them or avoiding them altogether. She had been spending increasing amounts of time outdoors, occasionally venturing out of the yard and onto neighboring properties. Taaffe thought it was just the heat, but when Katherine failed to come home to eat on July 17, she began to worry.

A recent influx of coyotes to Cupertino is a concern for Taaffe and other outdoor cat owners. Cupertino resident Hillary Lujack reported seeing a coyote in her Monta Vista neighborhood several weeks ago. The coyote’s visit was followed by several reports of missing cats. A landscaper Lujack had hired also reported finding cat remains in the open areas surrounding her home and neighborhood. These reports worry Taaffe, who describes Katherine as petite and skittish.

Taaffe has been checking local shelters constantly since Katherine’s disappearance, but to no avail. Though the 2-year-old tabby is microchipped, she has not been reported found. Taaffe is worried she may have succumbed to the dangers of her outdoor environment, or has been taken in by a local family that failed to notify anyone of their find.

Taaffe said she could see Katherine enjoying being the only cat in a new household, but is still heartbroken by the idea of her cat becoming someone else’s pet. “If I had a stray cat came to my house, I’d report it,” she said. “I wouldn’t want someone else to go through what I’m going through.”

The risks associated with the indoor/outdoor lifestyle of many modern cats are something that can be prevented by introducing cats to an indoor lifestyle, which is strongly recommended by the Humane Society of the United States. Many pet owners are hesitant to move their outdoor cats in, fearing they will fail to adapt to the less stimulating environment. But Kay Bushnell, a volunteer member of the Palo Alto-based Wildlife Rescue Inc., says that with a little patience and ingenuity on the part of cat owners, indoor/outdoor cats can make a smooth transition.

“Cat owners need to be aware of the many dangers that are outdoors,” Bushnell said. She cited a statistic provided by the society showing that, on average, strictly indoor cats will live four to six times longer than indoor/outdoor or outdoor cats. Many outdoor cats barely make it past the age of 3.

Coyotes play a large role in the untimely demise of family pets, particularly in suburban and rural areas, Bushnell said. In Cupertino, coyotes follow creek lines to family homes, where they are attracted to compost and garbage bins, bird feeders, and small animals–like rodents and cats–that live in residential areas.

Bushnell said people living in coyote-infiltrated areas can do their part by spraying their garbage with ammonia and making noise when coyotes come near their residences. “Do everything you can to make them afraid of you,” she said.

However, coyotes are not the only threat to outdoor cats. Bushnell said there are numerous dangers, including moving cars, fights with other cats, poisons and pesticides, human and animal predators, ticks, fleas and fungi.

For pet owners who are adamant about allowing their pets outdoors, Bushnell recommends outdoor enclosures. These structures, generally made of wire and wood, come in various sizes and allow cats outside without exposing them to many potential hazards.

For Taaffe, however, it may be too late to construct an outdoor enclosure for Katherine. “I’d be devastated if I knew she’d died,” she said, “but just not knowing is almost worse.”

This piece originally appeared in The Cupertino Courier.

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