Intensely Agitated

Listen to the intensity of the distress of this 9-year-old mother coyote whose pups are four months old. Recording courtesy of Dave Samas

A week ago I was hearing reports of a coyote screaming distressingly in one of our parks, which went on for 20 minutes or longer. Even folks who don’t know coyote calls well were able to decipher that something was terribly wrong. It happened again several days later within the same time frame. I hadn’t been there when these vocalizations occurred, but the reports came from people whose judgement about the coyotes I have come to trust.

Then today, I was sent a recording of the same type of vocalization, and indeed they are unsettling sounds: it was obvious that the coyote was extremely upset. These vocalizations, I was told, had gone on for about five minutes before my friend Dave turned on his recorder and caught the last 7 minutes of it which you can hear in the above video. But he said that it was the first five minutes which were the most agitated. Dave could hear the sounds loud and clear from right in back of his home. I hurried over to the park to see if I could locate the individual coyote who I imagined the worst about. I searched but I didn’t find anything except a homeless camp and wondered if that might have been involved in the coyote screams.

The trail I was on was a winding one with a wooded area off to one side and grasses and scrub on the other side. Suddenly there appeared on that path, not far in front of me, a large gray poodle. He was worked-up and panting, with his tongue hanging out, running back and forth frantically and excitedly in hot-pursuit mode, keeping his eyes directed in the forested area. This wasn’t just a dog chasing a coyote for fun, it was a dog who was intent on getting the coyote. The chase had been going on for a while, as per when the vocalizations were first heard, and the way the dog was panting. And it had been over a substantial area of the park. Once before I had seen this dog behavior, with this exact same type of dog, a standard poodle, who knocked me off the path in his focused pursuit of a coyote: poodles are powerful animals and this one was easily 80 pounds.

Then the dog-owner and a companion with her dog appeared on the path. I immediately called out to them to please leash their dogs, that it was a denning area and their dogs needed to be stopped from chasing the coyotes, that they needed to keep their dogs leashed in this area, after all, it was a leash-law park. To their credit, they immediately leashed up, which doesn’t always happen in such situations. They seemed absolutely unaware and oblivious to what was going on. There were two walkers and two dogs, but it was the poodle who was in “go-get-it” mode. Since they complied without incident, I thanked them and moved on, and so did they with their now leashed dogs.

As I left the park, the coyote’s screaming began again. I looked up and spotted the gray poodle again. The two dogs and owners were also exiting the park. The dogs were still leashed. The owner wondered why on earth the coyote was howling. I let her know that a dog who pursues a coyote may find itself followed and screamed at by the coyote for some distance, and even in the future without an initiating chase: coyotes remember everything, every dog, every incident. I hurried back into the park to see who the coyote was: it was Chert, the 9-year-old mother whose family I’ve been documenting over the last dozen years. She was defending her denning area with screams that were far more intense than I usually hear — maybe an intensity to match the dog’s vehemence in pursuing her?

Please, everyone, don’t allow your dog to chase coyotes. It may be entertaining and gobs of fun for your dog, but its hugely upsetting for the coyotes whose very life and family become threatened. These chases often result in leg injures which take a long time to heal, besides creating unnecessary stress. Also, it should be known that it’s illegal to harass wildlife, which is exactly what was going on here. And if you’ve ever wondered why coyotes don’t like dogs, now you know — even if it wasn’t your own dog that did the chasing.

And now, all the howling I had been hearing about over the last few days made sense. I realized that on those previous days, at this exact same time, it had to have been the exact same situation: this same dog after this mother coyote.

Chert is a mother again this year. She has three four-month old pups who are beginning to explore beyond their den area. A mother coyote can’t always control their wanderings — at this time of year they’ll be out during the twilight hours. Her screaming was probably more than just being upset at a vehemently energetic dog going after her: it was probably also a warning to her pups to take cover. The vocalizations in this recording are particularly piercing, I think: I felt her anxiety and distress, and the dire situation she felt she was in: this is what I’d like you to listen for and hear in the video.

Below is a photo of the dog whose owner just didn’t get it — didn’t even know her dog was chasing a coyote, didn’t even know why the coyote was barking at them as they left the park — she was absolutely oblivious to what was going on and not too interested. I’ll go out and monitor for the next few days.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MelindaH
    Aug 15, 2022 @ 18:04:21

    Janet: this is so distressing, I could only listen intermittently. Horrible, horrible owners. And the coyotes are at the mercy of the owners’ selfish arrogance. Keep up the good work, sending support to you the the poor coyotes—just trying to get by in the world..

    Reply

  2. Cindie
    Aug 15, 2022 @ 18:17:09

    My heart is racing…and aching for the coyotes. Thank you for this articulate story. I want to be in it as much as I can with the coyotes to know know all they have to experience, suffer and endure. Thank you.

    Reply

  3. Lisa Febre
    Aug 15, 2022 @ 19:30:56

    This was so hard to listen to, I feel like I couldn’t breathe — clearly she was in so much distress. I’m sorry, but a person has to be completely without empathy to hear these cries and NOT be moved in some way. Whether that be sympathy for the coyote, instinctual distress at the sound, or just regular old fear. But it doesn’t sound like something people could ignore — it sounds like something someone should question, at the very least “there are coyotes around and we should leash our dog.” How clueless can people be? I mean, even if they don’t care about the coyote, do they not care about the safety of their own dog?

    Janet, you are an amazing human and the coyotes are so lucky to have you on their side. On behalf of them, we all thank you.

    Reply

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