Vickroy: Coyote ugly: Sacrificing dignity to protect pet
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy January 16, 2013 2:10PM
Ted peers through the slats of his backyard fence onto a field where a coyote den has been discovered. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 12:34PM
How to explain the special bond between pet and owner?
Heartfelt? Warm and fuzzy? Crazy nuts?
It was well before dawn on a recent weekday when I nearly laid down my life — OK, maybe just my pride, but really what’s the difference the older we get? — for my dog.
As he often does on cold, unbearable mornings, Ted awakened with an urgency to go out.
It wasn’t quite 5:30 when I pulled open the patio door. The blast of winter made me wish I had paused long enough to put on socks.
Typically, Ted steps a few feet into the yard, does his thing and hurries back. This time, he sprinted into the darkness, barking maniacally, which gave rise to two thoughts: the neighbors and coyotes.
Fortunately for us, our neighbors are quite forgiving. Whenever I apologize for Ted’s early-hour racket or his many attempts to pee through our slatted fence onto their lawn, they act as if such behavior were perfectly normal. Sometimes, like the time Ted alerted all of Tinley Park to the fact that there was a giant snapper turtle in the next-door neighbor’s back yard, they even thank our little terrier.
“He’s so brave,” they say. Such compliments make him stand a little taller.
As much as I hate to disturb my neighbors, on this brisk morning I was more concerned that a coyote might be in the ’hood. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d seen one skulking about. We’d seen them at dusk, trotting down 84th Avenue. We’d spied them in the morning, hurrying across a nearby field. Neighbors report numerous sightings along the outskirts of our subdivision.
There is, in fact, what appears to be a large coyote den about 75 feet behind our yard, in a small wetlands area.
It’s no secret that the local coyote population has grown — or perhaps just become more visible — in recent years. Forest preserve officials have so far tagged more than 660 in Cook County, as part of the Cook County Urban Coyote Study. As their territory gets smaller, overrun by developments and parking lots, the predators are compelled to encroach on people places in search of food.
Just the other day I learned that a coyote jumped a wrought-iron fence to gain access to a yard in Mokena. Most coyote-pet clash stories favor the coyote.
Then I saw it.
There’s a street that runs behind part of our back yard. On it is a streetlight that casts shadows and silhouettes along the fence lines. On this particular morning, the light revealed the outline of a lone large animal sniffing along the outside of our wooden fence — a fence, I might point out, that went up soon after pup Ted joined the family nearly a decade ago. A fence that compelled my husband to nickname Ted “the $5 million dog.”
What price pet love?
Granted, on this chilly morning, love was nearly blind; I was not wearing my glasses.
I was, in fact, wearing mismatched pajamas and my big fluffy blue robe. ... you know, the kind that makes you look 100 pounds heavier.
With my bare feet and bed head, I was clearly a vision.
But who thinks of these things when a pet’s life hangs in the balance?
The instructions are pretty clear on how to handle a coyote sighting. You make noise. A lot of it. You project yourself to be bigger than you actually are. Because I stand 5 feet tall, this is a practice that comes naturally to me. And thanks to my poofy robe, I have to admit, mission accomplished.
Coyotes are living creatures, products of Mother Nature. I may not like the looks of them any more than I like facing down an opossum or a snake, but I respect their right to exist.
Just not on my property. And not when my dog is running free.
Ted weighs, oh, about 16 pounds, give or take a winter coat. While he’s not as vulnerable as say a Chihuahua or a baby rabbit, I can see how a coyote might want to make a meal out of him, especially this winter, when white-tail deer may be scarce thanks to a mysterious virus last fall.
Suffice it to say, I am always on guard.
So on this morning, I gave chase, screaming, yelling, clapping my hands, breaking the dawn’s silence in what I can only suppose is a more obnoxious sound than a jackhammer hitting cement.
It worked. The beast retreated and ran behind a tree.
I breathed a sigh of victory. Still, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got close enough to actually do something; I only knew that no wild beast was going to run off with my pooch.
And then I saw it: a wagging tail.
My big, ferocious, killer coyote actually was a nice, quiet golden retriever, accompanied by a nice, quiet, no-doubt-scared-out-of-his-wits man straddling a bicycle. The guy was blocked from view by a giant evergreen at the back of our yard.
He held up his hands as if to say, “Don’t shoot.”
“They’re friends; it’s OK,” the man cried. “He loves Teddy.”
“What?” I jumped. “You know my dog’s name?”
“My dog and your dog are friends,” the guy said again.
That is no small feat. Ted is not friendly with a lot of other dogs that pass by our fence, even though some have tried repeatedly to win him over.
But there Ted was, rubbing noses through the slats with a canine more than twice his size. They ran this way, then that way, tails wagging so hard they nearly had liftoff.
I guess animals are a lot like people. Sometimes they click and sometimes they don’t.
I straightened my robe, fluffed my hair, cleared my throat.
“Oh, well then, OK, good morning,” I said to the man, mustering what little dignity I could.
The nice thing about dogs is that they don’t judge humans the way humans judge each other. Dogs don’t care if your hair is askew, if your clothes don’t match, if you have a tendency to patrol your yard like a banshee.
Nice men on bikes, though ... well, that’s a different story. Doubt he’ll be back soon, at least not without some body armor.