I met Jona with her rescued greyhound on the leash in a park early this morning — she called out hello to me, asking if I had seen the coyote which lives there. As I answered, she spotted the coyote! The coyote disappeared, but as we talked it reappeared. Ahh, it always is nice to talk to people who understand and love the coyotes. I found out about Jona’s previous park work within the national parks – I hope she can help us with what is going on in the parks here.
As we spoke, a woman with two active dogs began up the path. I warned her that a coyote was around: if her dogs might chase, could she leash them? It did not happen immediately, but she was able to grab them and leash them. She did not want to be followed by the coyote and anxiously asked if the path she was on would be okay. The coyotes make some peoples’ day, and unmake others’!
Then Hunter showed up with his dog. The coyote still was perched high above, observing us below. Hunter’s dog ran up to me but then calmed down. As he and I talked, the coyote watched us, but particularly it watched the large labrador. Hunter told me that when he encountered this coyote several nights ago, he was surprised that his dog actually greeted it “in its own fashion”: a crouch and then a leap up! Coyote behavior, and dog-coyote behavior are always favorite topics of conversation.
Hunter walked on, while I snapped some pictures. The coyote was grunting, which means it was preparing for a barking session, as it watched Hunter and the dog leave. The coyote suddenly decided to follow them, so it raced down the hill, keeping its distance, and I, of course, followed too. So we ended up in a long single file: Hunter in front, the lab, the coyote and me at the end. At a certain point, Hunter’s dog decided to let me know that he was happy I had re-joined them. As he came running at me, the coyote wandered off to the side. I’ve been knocked off my feet before by this dog, so I crouched low, so that a fall would be a short one. The lab danced around me. The coyote became agitated with all the commotion and started its barking: a very high pitched and continuous bark. We knew the coyote was already in a mode for barking because of the grunts we had heard earlier: there had been enough dog activity earlier to set this off: coyotes do not seem to like a lot of commotion. This particular coyote really gets into its barking. The barking sessions sound like arias, so we call this one a “real drama queen”. She sits still when she barks, sometimes rearing up on her hind legs, sometimes raising her hackles, but always tilting her head back. She really gets into it.
So Hunter walked on out of the park — he doesn’t want his dog to be the reason for prolonging the barking — and I watched. Another dog walking on the trail, seeing and hearing the coyote, started to chase her. I pleaded with the owner not to allow this, and she was able to grab her unleashed dog. Then two more walkers with leashed dogs walked by as the coyote was still barking away. I think we all appreciated the “drama queen” and her performance. Things then became calm and the coyote settled down to rest and sleep — yes, right there in the open and in plain view.
Then suddenly, well before I had noticed any change in the surroundings, the coyote took off like a flash into the far distance and was gone. The “cause” of the fleeing appeared: it was a dog running up to where the coyote had been. The dog had not seen the coyote’s split-second departure. I approached the owner who didn’t have verbal or leash control over the dog — she had been yelling ineffectively for the dog to return to her. Our Animal and Care Department has been sending out someone to enforce the leash law at odd times — I thought I should warn her. This person was very upset that she might have to keep her dogs leashed, and she was upset that Animal Care and Control was coming to the park in order to protect a coyote. Dogs have always been fairly free in the San Francisco parks — and dog owners don’t want to give this up.
I’ve been speaking to a wolf specialist who said there really is “no middle ground” with coyotes. We need to protect the coyotes. The park situation has changed since our coyotes have moved in. We are the ones that need to adapt to this with stricter rules.
It was time for me to go. I had been in the park almost two hours. It is always nice to see a coyote. More often there is no coyote to be seen, or a coyote is much further off.
I want to add a conversation I had several days ago with Jacob, who has two dogs and is very enthusiastic about the coyotes and about his dogs’ behavior towards them — behaviors in which they engage at a distance from each other. He has noticed that some dogs, including one of his, are totally in-tune to eye-contact and communication with the coyotes — this translates into them being wary; whereas other dogs are totally oblivious to a coyote, as is his other dog. Jacob has noticed that the particular coyote we have lately been seeing will “lock” into eye-contact with some of the dogs, and he has noticed that this is an indication of this coyote’s dominance, which only those dogs who are in-tune to are able to discern.