DEAR JOAN: A few months ago I was out birding in the area between Moraga and Canyon when this coyote came walking by with a rather large snake in his mouth.

It's a little hard to tell from the photo, but can you identify the snake?

Bob Mandell

Bay Area

DEAR BOB: That's a great picture.

It's difficult to make an identification as we can't see the snake's head or tail, but I've narrowed it down to a rattlesnake or a gopher snake. Either way, the coyote had an excellent meal.

DEAR JOAN: Your article on what smells cats love was very good, but what about things that they don't like?

Coyote catches snake.
Coyote catches snake. (Courtesy of Bob Mandell)

Do you have something to repel cats that use my front and back yards for their toilets?

Enrique A Melende

Bay Area

DEAR ENRIQUE: When it comes to discouraging cats, finding a scent they don't like can be tough.

Among the smells purported to repel cats are citrus, citronella, lavender, garlic, rosemary, geraniums, chives, coffee grounds and chicken manure.

People also recommend cayenne pepper, but if the cats get pepper on their paws, they will lick it off and it could make them ill.


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Because finding the proper aroma is difficult, a better solution might be found in textures. Cats really don't like scratchy or sticky things on their paws.

Pick up a box of plastic forks at Costco and stick them handle side down in areas where they like to go. It will annoy the cats and bewilder your neighbors.

I had a letter from someone who put a motion-activated Halloween ghoul in his yard. When the cats ventured in, they got a good scare and haven't come back. Maybe we've found a new use for the singing bass plaques we got for Christmas a few years ago.

DEAR JOAN: I returned from vacation last week to find numerous tufts of grass dug up in one section of my back lawn. I never had this problem before.

I cleaned this up, put down some grub control only to find the next day that more grass had been dug up.

Any thoughts on what is doing this and how to eliminate it?

Robert Renfer

Bay Area

DEAR ROBERT: Your choices are opossum, raccoon, skunk and crow.

Opossums, skunks and crows typically pull up tufts of grass to get to those tasty grubs, while the raccoon does more serious landscaping, rolling up the sod. However, in the search for food, all four could be to blame.

Getting rid of the grubs will help, but it will take time for the anti-grub measures to start working and for the lawn diggers to get the message that the dining room is closed.

Replace the tufts, get some beneficial nematodes (little critters that go after grubs without poisoning the environment), and be patient.

If the problem persists, there are other measures to take including purchasing motion-sensing devices that shoot water at anything that comes onto your lawn, or activates lights.

You also can try leaving a radio, tuned to an all-night talk show, playing nearby.

Most of the solutions will work nicely and the critters will go elsewhere. If they are determined, however, you'll need to keep changing things to be really successful. A singing fish, perhaps?

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com.