A defiant coyote tested me one morning. Just like that coyote I remember from the cartoons my father used to read us when I was a kid. The cartoonist portrayed his coyote as the dumb one forever missing his prey. That invented coyote lived in the desert and he was very persistent. He was relentless in his pursuit of a hard-won meal. But he chased a very smart cartoon roadrunner.
What I learned from the cartoon coyote was to never give up. No matter how hard the goal, no matter how many obstacles, never give up hope. So on this one morning I was also persistent.
I trust my dog Allie explicitly. She is very selective about voicing her opinion. Once when she would not stop barking, it was because a rattlesnake was curled up in her doghouse. We had to call the animal control people to capture and remove the huge snake. So when Allie alerts me to something amiss, I pay attention.
She had given me some advance warning. The night before, she pawed at the door to be let out, whining and impatient. As I opened the sliding glass, she darted out and immediately began to bark at the darkness beyond the fence enclosing my backyard. She leaped up anxiously to the flowerbeds and stared through the wire as she continued her menacing noise.
Allie has never had much of an accent, just pure dog, a joyful blend of Yellow Lab and Boxer. Her sound is not quite as deep as her stepsister Birdie, a mix of Border Collie and Airedale Terrier, whose voice will put the fear into any creature — canine, feline or homo sapiens. Allie appeared fretful that night. She wanted to conquer whatever was lurking beyond my view. I called her back inside and the rest of the evening was quiet.
The next morning, I went downstairs to let the dogs out for their usual morning stroll around the yard, sniffing at bushes and relieving themselves. I prepared their breakfast.
At 15 years old, Birdie gets three pain pills daily to manage her advancing arthritis. She has figured out that the tasty pill pockets I bought are designed to hide the sour tasting medicine, so I have resorted to peanut butter as a mask for getting her to swallow the painkillers. She licks the spoon eagerly and the nasty pills along with the gooey peanut butter. Once all medicines have been administered, the dogs follow closely to my heels as I carry bowls filled with rations of kibbles. Their mouths salivate and barely allow me enough time to place their breakfast on the deck before they devour the food.
After feeding the dogs, I returned indoors and went upstairs to get ready for work. Then the barking started again. Annoyed at the interruption, I walked into the guest bedroom so I could get a better view of the backyard and the reason for the barking. An out-of-focus creature was standing in the field just beyond the back fence. I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t wearing my contacts. I raced back to my bedroom, grabbed my glasses, and returned to the guest-room window. There he was, now clear as could be. The coyote.
Allie and Birdie were both barking in unison at this point, hugging the fence as closely as they could get to their wild canine brethren. Still in my nightgown, I ran downstairs to see how I could affect the outcome of this early morning encounter.
The visitor was nonchalant. His brown coat nearly blended in with the summer grasses that cover our California hillsides. We are in a drought and animals seek water wherever they can find it. I am usually happy to share whatever I have with the wildlife that live around my house, but a coyote could kill one of my cats. They are to be feared.
I puffed myself up like a cat protecting its territory, trying to be as ferocious as possible.
“Shoo!” I said to the coyote, raising my arms in an attempt to frighten him.
He lifted his head from whatever he had been licking on the ground and stared at me intently. For a moment, our eyes were locked. He returned to his feast.
“Shoo! Shoo!” I tried a second time.
Ever feel like you are in a cartoon? That moment, I could have drawn a wonderful picture of coyote versus human and dogs. Coyote (1) and Human/Dogs (0).
The coyote clearly had the upper hand. He somehow knew that a tall fence separated him from the barking dogs and me. He was in his safe territory and we were in ours. So what was the big deal?
I searched around the yard for a rock or something else I could throw at him, but without success. Allie’s tennis ball was nowhere to be found. I would have easily sacrificed that. My next idea was water.
I set the hose to jet mode and aimed it over the fence in the direction of the coyote. I knew the water would not reach him, but it would be close enough and perhaps convince him to safely depart the neighborhood. The water flowed like rain into the dry grass, a mist of comfort, no doubt, to an animal seeking sustenance. He stood in the mist for a moment, relishing the rain. And then he turned and ran, but only a few feet before he stopped to look at me again.
We stared at one another. Two wild animals, loners from the pack, each of us just trying to survive.
My dogs continued their incessant barking, uneasy with this foreigner in their midst. The coyote was brave. He was defiant. He took risks.
Eventually the animal trotted off across the meadow and into the safety of the woods. I hope he returns some day.