Prescription For Disaster

All dog owners need to take responsibility for the safety of their pets. Leashing dogs protects both coyotes and pets: it is a win-win situation for everyone. Today there was an incident that could have ended in disaster because a little dog was not leashed.

The incident: A tiny (close to 4 pounds) white fluffy dog was grabbed by a coyote this morning in one of our parks. We found it about 200 feet away within about ten minutes after it was taken. He was lying in some undergrowth. The owner picked up the dog and ran him to a 24-hour pet hospital. The dog is being treated as I write this: the dog will be fine.

The details: We heard the owner yell at the top of his lungs “oh shit”, and then call for the dog — this is what notified us that something had occurred. Less than 30 seconds before, we had passed this man and talked to him about the elections. It was 7:00 in the morning and still dark — I was very surprised to see a dog walker with such little dogs in the dark in a wild park area. He had two dogs — both unleashed. The little dog was particularly small. This man was drinking his coffee as he walked, but most days when I see him as he walks his dogs through the park, he is working on his iPhone and concentrating on that. There have been no mishaps until today. When a woman walker found out what happened, she started screaming for the dog. The screaming and commotion might have served to scare the coyote even further off — but also to scare the dog — a dog is not going to respond to an unknown voice screaming at it. We heard the dog bark out twice and it is by following the sound that we found the dog.

What the owner said: The man told me he didn’t have his glasses on and so could not see very well. When he looked up, he saw two blobs which he assumed were coyotes, and suddenly his little white dog was no longer there. I asked him about a leash, but he did not want to discuss it — “I don’t want to know what I did wrong.” I offered to go with him to an emergency pet hospital, but he thought he could handle it.

People’s reactions: Most people are very responsible regarding their pets. But there is a handful of people who don’t want to take the small precautions needed to keep their pets safe: they are extremely antagonistic towards coyotes or anyone who likes them. From the distance I heard an angry man yell out: “I’m going to get you, coyote.”  Those people who are against coyotes will turn on them, using this incident as an excuse to malign coyotes rather than looking at their own contributing behaviors to the problem, or trying to solve the problem.

There is a lot that people can do to prevent coyote/dog interactions and incidents. The most important are to keep our pets safe by leashing them in a coyote area, keeping our pets calm in a coyote area, and preventing antagonistic dog/coyote communication through body language or eye contact. A coyote is going to follow its instincts — we can prevent our dogs from inciting those instincts in the first place. Scaring a coyote off with the loud noise from a shake-can serves when a coyote has come in too close.

The dog owner could have prevented the incident today by leashing his dog and by keeping his eyes open. In addition to endangering his pet, he has triggered another episode of human retribution. This is the scariest thing for me.

I spoke to two separate dog walkers afterwards to get a further sense of how people feel towards coyotes — neither had been aware of the incident. A French man and his girlfriend walking a dog didn’t even have a leash with them. “We have to walk our dog without a leash — the dog has to run,” is what he told me. He said that he just turns around and goes the other way when a coyote is out — that his dog would never chase a coyote. “The coyotes belong in the parks”, he told me — but he “cannot leash his dog.”  He didn’t seem to see that one of these tenets can’t be embraced without the other. The other was a woman with her dog well leashed: she felt sympathy for the coyotes who, she said, could not be blamed for following their own instincts.

Please keep your pets leashed in coyote areas. This will keep your dog from chasing a coyote, and therefore keep the coyote from returning to defend itself. Walk on rather than linger when coyotes are out. Leashing is the only method for keeping small dogs safe and close to you. Use a shake-can to scare a coyote off if it gets too close.

Rumors develop and spin out of control after such incidents, and it happened after this one. Friends let me know that they have since heard that the incident involved “a large labrador that had been totally mauled and nearly killed by a coyote.” The fact is that no dog has ever been mauled by a coyote in our San Francisco parks. The closest a coyote has come to this is nipping the haunches of dogs which have intruded upon it.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fred Markson
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 14:08:33

    After reading this, all I could think was “Why would a coyote want to take a little dog?”


  2. yipps
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 18:18:16

    To a coyote, a tiny fluffy white dog may have looked like, and acted like, a rabbit or some other prey, especially before dawn during prime coyote hunting time. The coyote was acting on its very natural instincts. By understanding their behavior and following very simple guidelines we can prevent such incidents from occurring.


  3. Teresa
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 18:04:23

    So, is it safe to assume you are now always leashing your dog in these areas? I seem to have read a couple of entries where you mentioned your own dog being unleashed(!) including a very recent one, and found this very puzzling.


    • yipps
      Nov 07, 2010 @ 01:39:41

      I’m sorry if there has been a misunderstanding, but I do not have a dog and haven’t for a long time — for longer than I’ve had the blog. I advocate leashing because of my care and concerns for both the coyotes that live in the urban parks and the dogs that walk in them. If I did have a dog, I would be leashing him/her or walking in a park without coyotes.

  4. Charles Wood
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 03:41:03

    Teresa: I am the one who has contributed some posts to Janet’s blog that describe my dog, Holtz, off leash. So perhaps the misunderstanding was from your having read some of my posts and later thinking of that content as Janet’s? I always leash my dog in parks where there are people, people and dogs, and/or coyotes. Charles


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