Sunday, September 06, 2009


BUS STORY # 149 (A Walk On The Wild Side)


Outside my front door, I can tell by the sky the sun is about to rise on the other side of the mountains. I walk down the sidewalk to my bus stop. Across the street, at the far end of the sidewalk and heading home to the foothills after a night’s work, comes a coyote.

He trots a bit sideways, his hind quarters not quite aligned with his front paws. His tan coat looks good – not ratty like a lot I’ve seen. He’s eating well. I suddenly realize I’ve never been this close before.

We keep to our walking but we also keep an eye on one another, two pedestrians with someplace to go, each minding his own business and hoping the other is similarly inclined. We pass each other mid-block. At the end of the block, I turn and look back. He’s still heading east, crossing the street and looking back at me.

A front door opens nearby. A woman comes out holding a small black dog in her arms.

“Was that what I think it was?” she asks me.

“I think so,” I answer.

“I was just about to take my dog out for a walk when I saw him,” she says, clutching her dog a little tighter.

I’m thinking he was probably more interested in all the new rabbits in the neighborhood or the field mice down by the arroyo. But a small black dog on the way home, well, I can imagine how that might look to a coyote like some kind of death-by-chocolate brownie.

I’ve heard stories about pets disappearing from foothills back yards. A former co-worker in the Edgewood area once referred to coyotes as “Mother Nature’s feral cat control program.” But I can’t imagine a coyote going for a pet with an adult human standing right there.

Later, I will google “coyote” and have my imagination straightened out. I learn that not only have coyotes attacked people, but a number of websites and blogs have first-hand and eye-witness accounts of small children and pets being attacked when an adult human was close by.

A lot of these stories are coming from southern California where so much urban development intersects abruptly with wilderness area – much like the entire east side of Albuquerque.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a study done by UC Davis found that from 1978 to 2004, “there were 89 attacks on people or on pets in the presence of people. More than three-quarters of those came after 1994.”

Another site, DesertUSA, quotes from the study:

“Out of the 89 Coyote attacks in California, 56 of the attacks caused injury to one or more people. Out of those that caused injury, 55% were attacks on adults. In 35 incidents, where coyotes stalked or attacked small children, the possibility of serous or fatal injury seemed likely if the child had not been rescued.” (Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem, Timm and Baker ’04)
And then I read this:
There is only 1 known fatality that occurred in California in 1981. A 3 year-old girl was attacked and killed by a coyote when she was playing unattended in her front yard.
I am momentarily stunned by a memory. More googling confirms I know the mother of the only child to have died from a coyote attack here in the States. She told me the story almost 20 years ago at a class reunion. Her child died in the operating room after several hours of surgery.

I’m beginning to feel like a real city slicker about that sidewalk encounter.

Later, I read about what I should have done when I encountered the coyote:

If you start seeing coyotes around your home or property, chase them away by shouting, making loud noises or throwing rocks.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Don't run or turn your back on the coyote. Face the coyote and back away slowly.Rocky Mountain News
Given a next time, I’ve decided I will stop walking and keep myself turned and fully facing him until he’s out of sight. And maybe pull my umbrella out of my backpack and have it at the ready. I seem to remember reading that popping an umbrella open at an oncoming bear will deter an attack. Or was it a mountain lion? Maybe it was geese, an angry gaggle of geese . . .

Truth is, I’d feel a whole lot more apprehensive if that coyote was a Pit Bull. And somehow, my future plans make me feel more embarrassed than smart. As if I were the provocateur here. Or as if I thought my old, stringy, inconveniently-sized carcass must surely be irresistible to any discriminating coyote. I figure I’m in more danger of being hit on by Paris Hilton.

On the other hand, I’m thinking this could be the epitome of urban naiveté. Paris Hilton isn’t roving my neighborhood, but at least one coyote is, and there’s no getting around all those coyote attack stories. And one of these days, I’m more likely to be tottering down that sidewalk than striding, old and feeble, a classic candidate for being culled from the human herd . . .

Out here in New Mexico, there are dozens of Native American stories about the coyote as “trickster.” Some of them are not so far in spirit from the stories folks my age remember about Wile E. and his relationship with our state bird. These make it easier to take the coyote less seriously than the supremely competent animal he is. And maybe that’s the real trick he’s mastered, the one that lets him get away with living and thriving in such close proximity to our kind – among us, actually, as many stories and Shirley Two Feathers’ remarkable photo suggest. Looks like a real sweetie, doesn’t he?

I know it’s nobody’s fault. There’s more and more of all of us, and less and less room. And, as the experts point out, food and water are abundant and readily available wherever humans are living. “Why are they going to go chase rabbits when you got Fifi locked up with a bowl of water to drink right next to her?” as one professional animal trapper puts it. As my IT friends would put it, we’re both "working as designed."

And that’s the trouble, isn’t it?

__________

The photo at the top of this story is titled "coyote rides the bus" and is posted with the kind permission of Shirley Two Feathers. You can see this and all Shirley Two Feathers' photos on Flickr at: www.flickr.com/photos/shirleytwofeathers/2456071552/

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