A Coyote’s Story
We live in the country, and as a result often have some unusual guests. On occasion we've shared our property with everything from a deer family to a great horned owl. Over the past winter, a lone coyote regularly came by our house to pay our dog Jessie a visit. The coyote would sit outside the fence of Jessie's pen and they would talk to each other. We hadn't seen the coyote for a couple months, until last week when she showed up on our front lawn late one evening.
At first my husband and I barely recognized it. The poor thing was obviously in serious trouble. Most of her fur was gone and her once beautiful ears lay limply against the side of her head. It didn't take a veterinarian to figure out that the coyote was seriously ill with mange - a skin disease caused by parasitic mites that eventually makes an animal's fur fall out. Although the disease can be treated in its early stages, it was clear from the condition of the coyote that she was beyond help. As much as I was concerned about the coyote, I was also afraid that our dog could become infected.
Since animal shelters only deal with domestic animals, I called our local town hall to see if they had any suggestions. Coyotes, I soon discovered, have become a major problem in municipalities like ours where rapid growth is quickly overtaking the countryside. Our local government alone pays out over $ 100,000 a year to local farmers who have lost livestock to hungry coyotes.
I was put in contact with John, a trapper who works with the municipality to handle problem wildlife. I must admit, as an environmentalist, I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of having the animal trapped and killed, but given its terrible condition, it seemed the only humane thing to do.
The preconceived notions that we have about people and things we know little about are interesting. When John pulled up in our driveway in his red pick-up truck, my own personal prejudices about guns and hunters were simmering just below the surface. The first thing that struck me about him was how incredible polite and friendly he was. He explained that had been tracking this particular coyote for several months since it began paying regular visits to a local schoolyard. For obvious reasons, the animal couldn't be hunted on school property. When the school's principal had asked John what could be done about the animal, his response was simple.
"Send a note home to all of your student's parents", he said. "And tell them to start packing sandwiches that their kids will eat." John plugged his nose and pretended to throw a make believe sandwich over his shoulder. Apparently, one of the biggest problems with coyotes is the people who feed them.
John asked us a few questions about where on our property the coyote usually came to visit, and proceeded to tell us exactly how he would trap the animal. He showed us modified leg-hold traps that would hold the coyote, but wouldn't hurt it. He then brought out his 'box of tricks' that included jars of muskrat intestines and bottles of coyote urine that would attract the animal. The children were fascinated.
As he set the traps he told us wonderful tales about his animal encounters. Our children listened with rapt attention as they heard about seven little foxes that came to play at a child's birthday party. And then his face darkened with anger as he explained how a coyote had wandered for days with a trap around its leg after someone had released the trap from the ground. I realized that although this man was a hunter, he was much more humane that the fools who had dug up the trap in the name of animal rights.
In the end, it took three days to capture our coyote. My eldest son was walking across the driveway early one morning, when he heard a loud snap as the trap closed around the coyote's front paw. We phoned John, and within twenty minutes he was there. He moved deftly as he snagged the poor animal and placed her in a cage in the back of his truck. He then covered the cage to minimize the trauma to the coyote and promised that he would kill her quickly and humanely. I believed him.
Just before he pulled away, our six year-old daughter, Sarah, begged to see the coyote close up. I looked at John and he nodded. "Just for a moment", he said. He pulled off one corner of the cover as I lifted Sarah up to the side of the truck.
I will never forget what I saw. Her decimated, hairless body shivered in fear and cold, and her head was bowed with the weight of her disease. But it was her eyes that will haunt me forever. Her animal soul cried out from ebony pools as if to say, "Look what you've done to my home."
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK:
It isn't wild animals that intrude in our lives, we intrude in theirs. Our coyote's den had been bulldozed for a new housing development, which is why she had become a problem for us. Deer, foxes and other wildlife are routinely displaced by human development. Many of these are being pushed to the point of extinction.
World Wildlife Fund Canada has helped to improve the chance of survival for many species, including the sea otter, the white pelican, the wood bison, the eastern bluebird and the Arctic peregrine falcon. For further information, checkout www.wwfcanada.org.