Coyote sightings continue to rise around the southland, with some of these incidents culminating in deadly results.

Shortly after dawn on July 30, Baldwin Hills Estates resident Greta Seshta was awakened by the frightening screeches of one of her cats. Her little felines rarely stray far from the house—just the typical exploring the innate desire to hunt—but this time something was different. Her daughter looked outside toward the commotion and saw a a pair of coyotes running off with one of her cats. Alarmed, the daughter began running after the animals but they were too swift afoot. She returned to her car to track the neighborhood—searching desperately for her pet—but to no avail. The little cat was gone.

“We looked around all morning,” Seshta said. “We thought she might have gotten away and would return home, but she never did. An odd thing happened during all of this: one of our other cats was chasing the two coyotes who had her little friend. She was trying to help save it.”

Seshta’s story is not unusual. Since 2013, Los Angeles Animal Services has reported a dramatic increase in coyote sightings—more than 500—not only in mid-town LA, but throughout the region spanning from Pasadena and La Canada-Flintridge to the north, and as far south as Carson and Wilmington. Two years ago in Irvine, four children were either scratched or bitten by one or more coyotes which have become more aggressive in residential neighborhoods.

“These incidents of coyote sightings underscore why communities should eliminate food sources that may attract wildlife,” said Capt. Rebecca Hartman of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “When coyotes eat food left out, they can become a public safety threat. They’re getting more and more comfortable around people.”

Coyotes usually fear people, but once they begin to associate humans with food, they can lose their natural fear and become bold and aggressive. Officials with the CDFW are trying to teach residents how to keep the coyotes at bay by explaining that pet food left outside, or uncovered trash cans, are easy targets for wild animals who see their natural habitat steadily shrinking because of human development. In the Baldwin Hills area, Seshta believes the coyotes may be coming down from the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area adjacent to her neighborhood. How they arrived there from the Santa Monica Mountains, she said, is a mystery, but the drought may be part of the reason.

“We know that they tend to breed during the spring, but it looks as though there is a pack nearby and they have little pups to feed,” Seshta said. “It has been very dry the last few years, and with all the fires they’ve had to find another source for food and water. We’ve seen them along Hillcrest Drive and along Don Felipe Drive.” Seshta said her two little dogs were found dead in the backyard after being mauled by coyotes. “For the time being, we won’t be getting any new pets; the cats I have will be kept in the garage at night,” she said.

CDFW officials say coyotes are most active in the early-morning hours or late afternoon. If coyotes are seen near your home, teach children to identify them, recognize the potential danger and know what to do if they come in contact with them. Try to frighten them away by shouting in a deep voice, wave your arms, or throw an object at the animal. Try to make yourself appear as large as possible (i.e. if you’re wearing a coat open it as wide as possible) and slowly retreat by walking backward, never turning your back to the animal).

“And don’t hurt the animal,” Seshta added. “They’re only trying to live.”