Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Coyote Mystery

My dogs and I have had some strange adventures lately. Every night, wind, rain, or snow, since November of last year, my three dogs and I have enjoyed the peace and solitude of our walks on the desert sandy hills west of town. We would arrive anywhere from early afternoon to dusk, sometimes watching the sunset together, or the black-tailed jacks race through the sage brush. Sometimes my husband would join us, but most of the time we would go alone. Chewy the chihuahua would chase after the chocolate labs for a bit then jump back into the truck, never traveling more than twenty feet ahead of me. Holly liked to explore a bit further, but her brother, Buddy, usually stayed nearby.

About two weeks ago, early in the afternoon, we were driving down a paved road near town when we noticed two coyotes standing in the middle of the street. They turned and looked at me. It was an odd moment. I felt as if they were staring into my eyes. I raised my camera to take a picture through the windshield--I didn't feel comfortable leaving the truck. They looked for a few minutes longer, then ran into the brush. After they disappeared into the sage brush, I opened the door of my truck and looked into the field. They had simply disappeared, as if the sage had swallowed them up. Then, as I climbed back into the truck, I glanced out the passenger side window and noticed a third coyote, her head raised slightly above the brush, watching me.

I had a strange sense of foreboding. I wasn't sure what to think. We were so close to town, and it wasn't even dusk! My apprehension grew the next night when we drove down a dirt road and saw two coyotes crossing in front of us. They made me wait as they slowly crossed the road, watching me all the while. I drove to the end of the road, turned around and drove back to the top of the hill, quite a distance from the two. I climbed out of the truck and Chewy ran across a ditch then stopped about twenty feet ahead of me. Holly and Buddy were still beside me. Chewy seemed to be looking at something. A white truck pulled up near the end of the road and a man waved to me. I waved back, assuming he was just saying hello. I started after Chewy.

Suddenly, a coyote stepped out from the sage brush and I realized why the man was waving. He started chasing Chewy. In one swift movement I screamed to the labs to get "up" into the truck, which they did, then I screamed to Chewy to run as I ran to the ditch. Chewy reached the ditch and seemed to fly across it. The coyote reached the ditch, saw me standing with a large stick in my hand and skidded to a stop, baring its teeth. I grabbed Chewy and ran backwards a few feet and the coyote moved forward into the ditch. I turned and ran to the truck and jumped inside just as the coyote cleared the ditch. When I started the truck, it turned and left.

The next night, I decided to take the dogs for a drive. We saw two more coyotes deep in the field, but I wasn't planning on staying. I took them closer to town and stopped on a dirt road in a quiet neighborhood. I parked in front of a house and left the truck with Chewy still in my arms, planning to carry him while I walked the labs a few feet down the road. I'd seen many people walking their dogs in this neighborhood. The labs were a few feet ahead of me and Chewy was still in my arms when three coyotes stepped out of the brush. I turned and tossed Chewy back inside the truck and Buddy jumped in behind him, but the coyotes circled around Holly. I grabbed my stick and swung it at them, but they ignored me, circling her fast, leading her to the sandy hilltop. By the time I got into my truck and chased after them they had her on the motocross track. I drove over the sage straight at the coyotes and laid on my horn just as one prepared to jump on Holly's back. Holly dodged the coyote and I jumped from the truck with my stick. Holly ran between two coyotes and jumped into the truck. I was stuck on the track for an hour trying to find my way out and the coyotes sat on the hill the entire time, watching, while Holly shivered with fear beside me.

I decided to take them to the hills above the high school instead, and decided I would go much earlier in the day. The first day, my husband went with me and all was well. On the second day, we stayed for half an hour, then I put Chewy and Buddy in the truck. I turned to look for Holly and she was gone. Then I heard the most hideous screeching sound I've ever heard. I think my heart stopped. I ran to the edge of the hill and saw a coyote chasing Holly. I have no idea what happened. Was it by the truck? Did it chase her down the hill? Did she wander off? I ran for Holly, waving my walking stick, screaming for her to run faster to me as the coyote came closer and closer. She reached the truck. I turned around and the coyote had disappeared.

The next two days I took the dogs for walks in empty fields in town, then took them for drives on the sandy hilltops around town. They stayed in the truck while I got out and took pictures of the mountains and sunset. The first night, I was photographing some crows when I noticed a gray spot in the corner of the view finder. I lowered the camera. It was a coyote, standing at the bottom of the hill, staring at me, baring its teeth. The second day I went to a different hill. I shot some great scenery pics and when I downloaded them onto my computer, once again I saw a gray spot in the corner. I cropped and enlarged it. Off in the distance yet another coyote was watching me, baring its teeth.

It's been four days now and we haven't seen one coyote. My husband has a week of day shifts so he's been with us on our walks. I don't know what to think about these coyote encounters. Were they after my dogs, or me? Why do they fail to appear when I'm with my husband? Why do they appear when I'm alone? It's a mystery.


Sara Edens said...

i know this is kind of an old post but It seems like they have it out for you or Holly. I'd hate to hear of something happening to your dogs.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Yes, my dogs are very special to me. To add more to the mystery, the situation only lasted two weeks and we haven't seen a coyote since. I've heard them on occasion as we're leaving the hills, and I often hear them moving through the streets in town at night, but they haven't made themselves known to us since early spring--which is when they have their pups. I am now careful to avoid ditches, arroyos, shrubs and trees on our walks. I choose flat lands with perhaps a chollo or two, but not the type of place where a coyote might dig a den for pups. I also trained all of my dogs to understand the word "coyote," and they immediately jump into the truck. I've also trained them not to wander further than ten feet from me on our walks. If they cross that line, I call them back. We have a fourth dog now who we rescued from the desert and I'm writing a post about him today, so, the training will start all over, but I think it's important that they understand their environment.

Sara Edens said...

I actually just read your new post about Baby and I'm so glad he has a home to go to and was not left at Humane Society to be put down.
Perhaps the coyotes were just being protective of their pups.
Be safe and have a great day!

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Actually, I just finished reading an article about efforts the government is making to poison and kill coyotes to keep the population down. It's heartbreaking. No, I do not want to lose a pet to a coyote, but they still have a right to live. They made it legal to shoot wolves, which raised the coyote population (wolves are the only real predator of coyotes) now they're killing the coyotes. It's heartbreaking. My greatest fear, though, was that Baby might be eaten by coyotes if I didn't figure out a way to bring him into town. He's sleeping peacefully at my feet right now, curled up next to my chocolate lab, Buddy. He's so much younger than I thought--clearly a pup and not even close to a year old--but a fast learner and a wonderful, affection dog.