Thursday, April 3, 2014

Coyotes: Tricksters of the Desert

I watched this coyote leaping about in an arroyo near Bernalillo, New Mexico, trying to reach a parliament of burrowing owls congregating at the top of the arroyo's steep walls. She finally gave up. In this case the trick was on her, poor thing. She looked hungry! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

One of the many reasons I like this blog is because I can be so flexible. Sometimes I discuss an animal I've never seen before, but want to some day, like the Leafy Sea Dragon. Sometimes I discuss important animal issues, like slaughterhouses and wild horse roundups. And sometimes, I just tell stories. Today is a story day. Today I will tell coyote stories: C is for Coyote!   

I once had a dream about an old woman who was wearing many skirts and a white blouse with a woven belt tied about her waist. She seemed to be from a time long ago. She had two coyote pelts tied to her belt. She beckoned to me and I followed her into the forest behind our house in Texas. She built a fire and I sat beside her and she gave me some tea. She patted the coyote pelts and smiled at me as if she was trying to tell me something. When I woke up I immediately search on the internet to try to find meaning in the dream. The coyote animal totem represents many things. It is a teacher of wisdom and humor, but it is also a warning not to take things seriously, to find balance between wisdom and pleasure. Most importantly, the coyote is a trickster. It reminds us that we can be easily fooled. At that time in my life I was trying to heal the pain from two broken relationships, people who had tricked me unmercifully and made me look and feel foolish. Perhaps the old woman was trying to tell me the tricksters were dead, that it was time to move on with my life. Or perhaps it was just a dream. Not everything that happens in life has a hidden meaning, but I like to keep my mind open, and when I thought back on my experience with coyotes I realized the definition fit.  

Buddy and Holly at dusk in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Coyotes can be found from Central America, through Mexico, the United States and into Canada, and they move further north every year as they adjust. They like to roam in packs at night and you can hear them howling for their family members Dawn and dusk are dangerous times in coyote country, and spring to summer are dangerous seasons. The coyotes hunt at dawn and dusk, and in springtime they have their babies and are very protective.

People in rural areas talk about "tricks" the coyotes play on house pets. They will actually play with domestic dogs, and some people say they will bread with domestic dogs, creating offspring called coydogs. We have a friend who was told he has a coydog, and I suspect this is true. The problems with dogs and coyotes are simple and logical--coyotes are wild, so they need to produce offspring; they need to eat; they like to play; and they are territorial.
Lucy, my friend's "Coydog," is one of the sweetest, gentlest dogs I know.

I have been told that coyotes will send a female close to the home to attract domestic dogs. Then they lure the dogs close to their territory and the pack attacks and eats the dog--one of many reasons why I do not allow my animals out at night alone. But, accidents happen. One day I came out the front door and saw two coyotes playing with a black dog on the side of my house. When they ran off I realized the black dog's tail was down--it was a black coyote. 

Yes, these also exist and photos of them can be found all over the internet. On that particular day, though, I was wary of letting the dogs out. Our two chocolate labs were still young and easily lured away from home. As I prepared for bed I could hear the coyotes howling nearby. The dogs whined to go outside, but I wouldn't let them. I had taken them for a walk an hour earlier and knew they wanted to chase the coyotes, so I went to bed.

Around midnight, my husband woke me up. He came home from work at 11 and saw the dogs whining at the door, so he let them out. He didn't hear the coyotes, but he knew immediately that something was wrong when the dogs ran through the apple orchard and out into the neighbor's field. 

In the Southwest, most fields are filled with sagebrush and it's nearly impossible to see coyotes because they blend with the tan color of sage stems and trunks and the sand and soil. They also seem to almost creep so you can only see the tops of their heads.

Do you see the coyote? It's there! They blend so well it's nearly impossible to see them! Photo taken in Rio Rancho, New Mexico by Darla Sue Dollman.

Steve was in a panic. He'd been searching for the dogs for an hour and there was no sign of them, but the next day was Saturday and he had to get up in six hours to go to work. So, I got out of bed, climbed into my truck and drove through our neighborhood calling for the dogs. I took a huge flashlight and walking stick and walked around our property. I didn't even hear the coyotes anymore, which made me feel kinda sick inside. I knew something was terribly wrong. 

I drove up and down the highway miles away in case they were led far from home and were lost, then I returned home around four in the morning. I parked in front of our house and left the truck lights on shining over our hills with the radio on hoping that if they were lost they would see and hear me in the dark, then I waited.

I didn't have to wait long. I fell asleep for about ten minutes, then I heard a whining sound and looked out the open truck window to see Holly beside me. I turned off the truck and jumped out, grabbing her in my arms. I called out for Buddy, but didn't hear or see him. I reached for the flashlight and saw him moving slowly down the road. I felt them all over and they felt fine, so I brought them inside and they collapsed on the living room rug. I lay down between them, relieved to have them home.

Buddy is a desert rat. He loves to explore the desert! He is also fearless, which can be a problem. Photo taken in Rio Rancho, New Mexico by Darla Sue Dollman.

About an hour later I woke up feeling strange. I realized my arm was damp. It was blood. I rolled Holly over and found bites on her stomach and legs. My husband was leaving for work, so he helped me carry the dogs to the truck. I called the vet and she met me in town (thank you God for small town vets) and opened her shop. Buddy still seemed fine, so I left him in the truck. 

Buddy and Holly on my bed. (Don't tell Dad! I put a sheet down to catch the dog hair!) Photo taken in Marble Falls, Texas by Darla Sue Dollman.

The vet checked Holly over and told me she was covered in coyote bites and lucky to be alive. Then she said, "Where's her brother? They never go anywhere alone!" I told her he looked okay to me, and she said, "No, they would have gone for him first as he was the greater threat. He will have bites on his back and legs where they tried to take him down." Sure enough, when we brought Buddy inside she found bites on his back and legs, too, but they weren't bleeding and they were covered with fur, so I could barely see them. She told me they were lucky to be alive. 

Buddy and Chewy the Chewchewcabra in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

So, we moved to Texas for four years, lived on five acres of forest surrounded by forest, saw snakes every day, vultures, ringtail cats, heard mountain cats, saw every animal you can imagine and heard coyotes every single night, but never saw a single one. 

Two years ago we moved to New Mexico, to a county that has an ordinance against lawns due to drought. The dogs need to run so for a year I took them up to the mesa every day for a run. Then one spring evening I came home late and we arrived at the mesa at dusk. I should have known better. We saw coyotes in the road as we headed for the mesa. 

Coyote walking through the mesa at dusk. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I drove the dogs around for awhile, then came back in toward the houses at the edge of the desert and decided to walk them on the leash. Buddy loves to roll in the dirt, but I didn't want to take any chances. 

Buddy love to roll around in the warm sand. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I opened the door and Holly jumped out. She reached the end of the truck and was immediately surrounded by coyotes. They appeared out of nowhere, like ghosts in the desert. Buddy and Chewy jumped back into the truck and I took my walking stick and ran toward them, but they acted as if I wasn't even there. They were pushing her toward a dirt bike track, and moving fast. I jumped into my truck and raced after them, driving right between them. They turned and came after me! I started swinging my stick and Holly ran behind me and jumped into the truck. I climbed in and shut the door, but I was stuck with the center of my truck on top of a dirt mound and the coyotes surrounded us. They stood their ground, refusing to leave. 

Coyote refusing to leave when I was stranded in the desert. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I called my husband and asked him what to do. We debated calling the police because I couldn't get out of the truck, and couldn't get it to move by rocking it back and forth. Suddenly, the wheels caught, the truck started to move, and the coyotes started to leave.

Coyotes leaving. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

We made it out safely, but I decided to avoid the mesa, even though people often take their dogs there for walks. It was too frightening and I did not want to go through that again. We decided to take the dogs for a walk by the road where we saw more people. We stopped the truck and when I opened the door my chihuahua jumped out. He started to run then froze. A white truck was coming down the road and I thought he was looking at the truck. Then I noticed the man was waving frantically. Chewy was only about 20 feet away, but I started to run for him and he started hopping backwards, then turned and ran toward me just as they coyote popped its head up from the brush. It lunged out of the sagebrush at Chewy at the same moment he leapt over the ditch and into my arms. The coyote turned and ran back into the sagebrush. I put Chewy in the truck and as we drove away I could barely see the coyote's head poking out above the sage. 

Do you see the coyote? Look closely. This is how close they come to the houses in New Mexico--right up to your door. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I still needed to exercise the dogs. We were going to give it one more try--the hills next to the high school. We drove up there the next day. The hills were filled with joggers and high school students and people walking their dogs, so we assumed we were safe. We had a great time, then I started loading the dogs into the truck. I turned around for Holly and she was gone. I called for her frantically, then took out my camera to use it like binoculars. I spotted her at the base of the hill, and just on the other side of a huge tree where she couldn't see it was a coyote with its teeth bared. 

By this time my dogs had learned the word "coyote!" I screamed as loud as I could and started running as fast as I could. I reached Holly with the coyote less than six feet away. It growled at us then slowly turned around and walked away. I ran Holly back up the hill then chased down a group of student joggers to warn them about the coyote as she was on the same trail they were running on--they had just passed us.

Using my camera like binoculars, I spotted this coyote on the opposite side of a tree. Oddly, it didn't seem to see my dog. It seemed to be growling at me! Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

No more desert, I told my husband, and I started walking the dogs on leashes in the neighborhood, but one of my neighbors mentioned it would be safe if I went up in the mid-day. So, around lunchtime I decided to take the dogs up one more time. It was a Saturday and surprisingly crowded on the mesa with dirt bike riders and three-wheelers and four-wheel drivers jumping the mounds, but as soon as I reached the mesa the strangest thing happened--I saw the word "dog" in my mind. 

Now, I do not claim to be psychic, and it was nothing like that, I just saw "dog," just like that, in my mind. I found an open spot that we had visited before--plenty of room with no trees or high sagebrush to hide coyotes, but I felt as if we were being watched. We were there a few weeks before with my husband and I had the same feeling--someone was watching me. I saw the word DOG in my mind again. I just couldn't do it. I knew it had to be a warning. I apologized to the dogs and started to back up. I said, "coyote" and they all started looking around, and relaxed--they were not going to leave that truck. 

The DOG in the sagebrush. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Suddenly, I saw the sagebrush moving. A dark brown animal was crawling out. It was a brindle dog, short, skinny, it's ribs showing. It crawled out in front of my truck, rolled onto its back and lay there with its four paws in the air, then turned and stared at me. 

I climbed out of the truck with the water dish and water and gave him water slowly, then put down some kibbles I had in a baggie in the truck. I waited a few minutes. He seemed unsure of me, but he wasn't about to let me leave, either. I gave him some more. Another truck pulled up and asked if the dog was mine. He said he was watching us from a few roads down and wanted to know if I needed help. It was after dark before we convinced the dog to climb into the truck, but I took him home. 

Baby in the desert. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I spent a month looking for his owners and finally adopted him. We named him Baby because that's what I kept saying to him to draw him closer to me. "Come here, Baby!" And that's how we came to have a pack of four dogs, with the help of the local pack of coyotes, which we still hear every night as they roam through our neighborhood. 


Vidya Sury said...

What an interesting post! I didn't know coyotes were wily like that. Which is probably why they have that TV show called Wile E Coyote! :)

Didn't know about the coydog either!

Glad your dogs were safe.


Vidya Sury
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Diary Writing

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Me too--those were scary times. And coydogs are surprisingly calm! I've heard many people say they met a coydog and were very surprised by how tame it was.