Please Don’t Provoke or Taunt The Coyotes in Our Parks

Most of us love the coyotes in our parks — we get great joy out of watching them. Most of us consider ourselves lucky to get a glimpse of one when we can. On a morning walk, you might be able to pick-up on their charming display of curiosity as they watch from a distance and then appear on the path a-ways in front of you from around a bush: “where are you going, and what are you doing?” It is the dogs they are curious about. All dogs inspire curiosity in a coyote. Calm dogs leashed at their owner’s side have not presented problems: the coyote will likely duck into the bushes when it knows it has been seen. But it is different with unleashed dogs who chase, unruly exploring dogs who walk nowhere close to their owners, or dogs that growl or tug at a leash when they see a coyote. These last, either consciously or unconsciously, actually provoke a coyote. An unknowing provocation can be excused the first few times. Known provocation should be against the law.

Please read the books by Marc Bekoff about animal thinking and feelings. A good place to start, aside from the many books he has written, is his recent article of Animal Emotions: Do Animals Think and Feel?

We all have read about Tatiana, the Siberian Tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. This animal was taunted and humiliated so badly that she decided to go after her tormentors. Tatiana had only a small enclosure which was hers. All zoo animals are caged in spaces much too small for them: they are prisoners of humans who have taken them out of their natural environments and put them on display. That, in itself, is a cruel fate. But as long as they are in a zoo, they need to feel safe and peaceful in the small spaces they are given. On December 25, 2008, as the San Francisco Zoo was closing and people were leaving the exhibits, three young adult men allegedly took it upon themselves to taunt this tiger. Rumors have spread as to what they did: did they throw something at the tiger, dangle their legs in her area, urinate on her? Drugs were found in their car. Possibly it was a “dare” situation — fun and games for young adults.  Animals have strong feelings and know when they are being taunted. Animals get mad. Animals also have empathy, and a sense of fairness. Watch them — spend some time doing so. If you don’t want to watch them, read some of Marc Bekoff’s books.

There are people in our parks who refuse to leash their dogs in coyote areas — this, even though we have a leash law. The leash-law is not enforced by either our Parks Department nor by our Animal Care and Control Department — they have other things to do. In most cases, it probably doesn’t matter. But in some cases, it does. Our parks are “multi-use” parks: we have camps, recreation, schools, runners, wild-animals — our parks are not just for the dogs. Each group needs to be considerate of the others, and for the most part they are: all except a handful of dog owners who seem to believe the park is only a dog park, not a multi-use area.They don’t want to leash their dogs when a coyote might be in the area, and they don’t like coyotes in our parks.

So a couple of days ago, the same German Shepherd which has chased coyotes often, always in the same areas of the park, chased a young, curious coyote yet again. The large shepherd weights 120 pounds, the young coyote 25. Mistakes happen now and then, and we all hope that those exposed to one coyote incident might become more sensitive to the situation and do their best to avoid another — simply by leashing in the immediate area. It is always the human owner who is at fault for not leashing the dog. In this particular case, the owners allowed their huge unleashed dog to go after the young coyote as the owners themselves stood back and watched and laughed. The coyote re-appeared right after this initial chase, and the scene was repeated, laughter and all.

This constitutes provocation and taunting. Other instances of provocation I have seen in the last few days are rather baffling to me. One man, who last year allowed his own dog to interact with and “play” with a coyote, has now done an about-face regarding coyotes in our parks — he wants to get rid of them. He now includes a large, always unleashed, hunting dog on his walks — even though I have seen that his own dog has been sometimes leashed recently. The man slings a ball for this dog in a known coyote area. There is hyperactivity involved in a dog’s chasing a ball; hyperactivity is distressing for coyotes. Coyotes are disturbed by hyperactivity. Playing “catch” in a coyote area is a provoking action that we can all easily avoid engaging in.

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