My family decided to preserve our deceased dog. Along with an urn full of his ashes, we would have one of his paws imprinted on a piece of clay. Shadow would remain in the household, even if only as dust and rock. A few days after the fatal attack, I went back over to the animal hospital to pick up the sepulchral objects.
“Thank you,” I said solemnly to the young lady after she handed me the paper bag. I took it to my car, sat in the driver’s seat, set the bag in the middle, pulled out the small box, inspected it for several seconds, put it back. Then I took out the paw print. While holding it in my hands, feeling the hair-like crevices in the clay, I cried and verbalized an apology for being such an irresponsible pet owner. I drove home, where Shadow’s remains were immediately put on a shelf by the door.
I have a friend in the area who also happens to be the perfect communitarian. She’s lived here all her life, knows every nook and cranny, aware of every happening, and even ran for office a number of times. She has a friend, Aaron, who runs a popular local news blog. Would I be willing to come on and tell my story? Why not. Surely my community would offer me some sympathy. After all, it could have been their dog.
One evening, waking up with an intense hangover, I answered Aaron’s phone call. We spoke for about a half hour, all the while I was struggling to summon the proper words. The resulting writeup quoted me as saying that my dog was “30 or 40 feet away from me,” and that after me and my other dog, Buster, had made chase, I saw “two glowing eyes staring back” at me. I also said that I hoped that the “terrifying experience will inspire pet owners to be more cautious with their furry loved ones.” The article had to make mention of Sidney; yes, this was the second time I’ve lost a pet to these creatures. “The city needs to get serious about this,” I said finally. “They need to do something.”
This post brought me a great deal of hatred, scorn, and blame. “Last thing we need is people trying to get these wild animals off our streets,” one person wrote. “I love seeing them…We (people) are the intruders.” Eleven “Likes.” Some of the commentators even thought that I should even be brought up on criminal charges.
And I hated my replies to Aaron’s questions; the alcohol had put a noticeable strain on my thinking. Still, those comments presented me with a widespread mentality that I saw as utterly bizarre, and one that I assumed to be native only to the Golden State. It could be summarized with this strange sentence: “The wild animals were here first.” True enough, but so what? I soon made the satirical hashtag: “CoyoteLivesMatter.” Wanting to see more evidence of this mindset, I joined a Facebook group where I could read more stories and post a few comments of my own. One lady commented on a post about a cat that was snatched from its backyard. She said: “Don’t tell us how to care for our cats…we leave them outside because that’s where they love to be, how they thrive, and if they get eaten by a coyote, that’s just the way it is.” The circle of life as seen in the liberal 21 Century: wild animals are allowed to hunt for domesticated animals while civilized humans berate other, less civilized humans for thinking they should protect their property against them.
No, I didn’t like this mindset. I thought back to my underwhelming interview with Aaron. I would’ve liked to have told him that beast makes way for man, not man making way for beast. Sympathy for the plight of animals is a virtue that we adopt because it reflects our own humanity – not because animals have any rights by themselves. We see gruesome videos of factory farming and it appalls us: “They suffer like that so that we may stuff our faces! No! Revolt against my own stomach!” We don’t like all the blood and suffering and abuse. “Why does it have to happen?” we ask ourselves. And while the shrillest opponents of that business practice shriek whenever they see a family hunting deer in the woods, the deli and the diner usually go unopposed; yet they consume the same product without being responsible for the slaughter. This is an odd implication, because in the eyes of the Animals Rights Activist, murder must therefore be omnipresent. Every grocery store suddenly becomes a morgue. So unless said-activist is willing to protest the local Vons or Stater Bros, they really should not be deeming children on their first hunting trips as “murderers.”
Animal Rights Activism is wedded to these paradoxes. Animals have been made to be slaves, for use in food, clothing, sport, and a means for travel. Goodhearted humans, who experience evolution as every living thing does, have made us all aware of how obviously painful this is, and thereby wish to liberate animals from the testing tubes and the slaughterhouses. Fair enough! However, these activists must realize that animals can never be granted full participation in society, as no linguistic connection can ever be made, and so no contract can ever be legitimate. Which means that animals can never testify to their own abuse. This is much different from advocating for the rights of the young or the old or the disabled, those who animals might be compared to in their respective inabilities. The former – most of them – will still wield more responsibilities than any animal ever could.
Animals might grease frying pans with their flesh, but their mindfulness cannot grease the engines that maintain a civilization. No driver’s license will ever be given to them. None will be taking the witness stand. Animals will not be given a list of inventory and told to make it work. Their saviors must realize that the “rights” they fight for can never be reciprocated; they’ll never see the pig they freed from the slaughterhouse then go out and argue for the right to smoke cannabis or to vote or to bargain for a salary. They’ll never come out to protest against the trapping of another animal, likely because they’ll be too busy hunting that animal for themselves. Here, man moves for animals when animals cannot move for man. We can be sensible and humane without be silly and pretending that were all on the same evolutionary rung. As I see it, animals must be treated as they treat every other animal: as a creature who exists within that continuum. If we can’t explain to wild predators why it’s wrong for them to violate properties in their never-ending hunt, what sensible option is there left except to use force as they would? We can argue that not torturing animals is an example of our higher positioning on the evolutionary ladder, but then we’d also have to conclude that we have the right to take action whenever they encroach upon our society.
Where, then, does the premise of “they were here first” take us? If human beings were the unethical and illegitimate invaders to this untamed land, should we all just set a match to our houses before moving onto boats out in the ocean? Indeed, during this same time, there were a few arsonists who had burnt down entire hillside neighborhoods, displacing many families. Assuming that the charcoaled property will soon become reoccupied by wild animals, perhaps we should consider erecting a statue for these firebugs. Or maybe a GoFundMe so we can get some money sent to them in prison. After all, those people liberated the stolen land; in due time, coyote birthrates will surely spike. How heroic, yes?
Months passed. All the while I brooded on my losses. On these positions. I Googled for articles. And argued online with these regressive-minded animal saviors. The arguments and the studies helped me to better understand what I was up against. They also presented the possibility that all efforts to exterminate the animals might be in vain.
One 2007 study out of the University of Nebraska stated that: “coyote attacks on humans have emerged as a phenomenon within about the past 30 years. The problem is most severe in California (particularly Southern California)” – “far more…than other states.” The paper reported 111 attacks occurring between the years of 1977 and 2004. A 2017 update on flesh-craving coyotes was published in Human-Wildlife Interactions. This journal found 367 attacks on people from 1977-2015, “of which 165 occurred in California.” For some comparison, the article reports 141 coyote attacks in 25 additional states, and 61 attacks in 7 Canadian provinces. The former journal also notes the following, somewhat chillingly:
After 30 years of investigation, it is our conclusion that urban and suburban coyote conflicts are continuing to increase as coyotes increasingly adapt to living in proximity to humans. Based on reported coyote attacks in California, attacks increased from 31 during 1990-1997 to 50 duing 1998-2005. Complaints received by USDA Wildlife Services in southern California related to human health and safety totaled 834 during 91-98, and increased to 1,899 during 99-06, with the human population increasing only 13%.
The researchers believe that the attacks have increased due to a “lack of human harassment coupled with a resource-rich environment that encouraged coyotes to associate food with humans could result in coyotes losing their ‘normal’ wariness of humans ‘abnormal numbers of bold coyotes.’” This last line continues with a theme found in almost everything I have read and heard: Californians, many of them, not only do not view the wild animals as dangerous predators, they actively feed and nurture them. No wonder the rates of attacks have increased! The rest of country, saner as it no doubt is, would view coyotes as I have, and thus take the proper measures needed to keep their numbers low.
All this having been said, there has only been one recorded death by a coyote. In 1982 a little girl by the name of Kelly Keen was attacked right outside her Glendale home, succumbing to her wounds in the hospital. On the matter of who is more likely to be the victim, the data in the Human-Wildlife Interactions article is somewhat contradictory from some of its other sources:
We found significantly more adults than children were victims of coyote attack. This differed from findings of Alexander and Quinn (2011), whose evaluation of coyote attacks in Canada found 13 adults and 13 children were victims. White and Gehrt (2009) evaluating 159 victims in 142 attack incidents, found a slightly greater number of coyote attacks on children (75) than on adults (67), noting that in attacks they classified as predatory, most victims were children (47 children vs. 10 adults).
“Predatory attacks” was defined as happening when, even after being seen, a coyote would continue to aggressively pursue and attack their target, thus causing serious injury. Of course, it’s not only attacks on people; that’s rare enough. Pets, expectedly, account for the majority of these incidents. There are probably too many of those victims to ever get a good estimation for. Our own mobile home park has seen a lot of cats go missing. The city telephone poles are rife with such flyers: “If you’ve seen our Poodles, please call…” But not every lost dog or cat will find their way into a database. Those pets become dinner, and the best we can hope for is that they were killed quickly before the first chomp had removed a leg while the vocal cords remained intact.
Then the next question comes up: What do we do about this? What has been attempted? Another study in Human-Wildlife Interactions came out in 2017. It was titled “Evaluating Lethal and Nonlethal Management Options for Urban Coyotes.” The paper cited another work, noting that: “The rise of aggressive behavior in urban coyotes is speculated to derive from the way the public interacts with coyotes in urban environments and a general lack of consequences for being in the presence of humans.”
Expectedly, hazing is the method approved by animal rights activists, and the method most often used for coyote control. This involves loud yelling, flailing of arms, and, presumably, offering up your pet in exchange for your own life. Conducting their research within the Denver, Colorado area, the authors found that: “Our results support the idea that targeted lethal removal of problem individuals can reduce conflict, but do not support the idea that promoting the public to haze coyotes will solve problems associated with overly aggressive/bold individuals that have become problem coyotes.” They continue: “One common claim is that lethal removal will not stop the problem and that conflict will recur and require continual lethal control effects. This statement is accurate in that occasional removal of problem coyotes will likely be continually necessary in urban areas with coyotes.” The paper also finds that, in order to be an effective means of control, some 50-70% of a coyote population needs to be exterminated. “Results from our experiment indicated that hazing had no detectable effect on influencing coyotes to avoid human-rich areas.”
I decided to find someone who deals with this problem, someone in the local government. Ken Pellman works at the Agricultural Commissioner Office. I was referred to him by some people I had been talking to on the Facebook groups. One day Mr. Pellman and I spoke on the phone for about a half hour. He informed me of a few interesting facts. For one thing, while it’s against the law to feed these “highly adaptable” animals, it is not against the law to kill them, as coyotes are not a protected class of animals. But, he adds, coyotes can play a beneficial role in the natural environment. “They eat the rodents and the snakes,” Pellman said, adding that there was “nothing unusual” going on in my neck of the woods. He also told me that his job with the county was to “carry a delicate balance” with the number of coyotes. “Eradication works momentarily in other parks of the country,” he said. Sadly, in his estimation, he doesn’t think the county kills even a hundred coyotes a year. “Within a couple of years, they’ll be right back.”
That’s exactly what was stated in the study: coyote culling requires continual effort. And with the social atmosphere in the Pyrite State being what it is, we can’t even bring that conversation to the table. After taking with Mr. Pellman, I felt even more despair. It dawned on me: just like the Los Angeles traffic, the only true solution is to move out of the state. That prospect is still in the works. In the meantime, the coyotes continue to run amok in our communities, with nothing at all done about them. Perhaps any effort is in vain. But maybe not. Maybe a few trapped and killed coyotes could slap the Southern Californians out of their weird stupor, showing them that, not only is it easy, it can also be done by almost any able-bodied resident.
I was reminded of a quote by Eric Hoffer: “At the edge of every cultivated field, and around every human habitation, nature lies in wait ready to move in and repossess what man has wrested from its grasp.” I saw nature as embodied by furry, frail, four-legged carnivores. Many dozens of times now have I seen a coyote crossing a busy road. I saw a whole pack while hiking at the Santa Fe Dam, perhaps a dozen sitting out in the sun, while moving deeper into the brush with every step I took towards them.
One morning I awoke to a post on our community Facebook page. It was a picture of a coyote, taken by a neighbor sometime in the middle of the night. The creature was right outside the window of our house. Other posts had caught them on video, just wandering around the neighborhood, hunting for pets that would otherwise be happily handed over by the regressive-minded. They insist that we tolerate this. To never leave our pets outside alone for even five minutes. “They were here first, and, besides, eradication is impossible.” But that’s not true; it just takes some work. There will always be enough coyotes to keep the snakes and the rodents in check. I wish to reduce the number of coyotes so that more of us get to keep our pets.
A couple weeks later a package arrived for me in the mail. It was only $12. Something to help me make an example for the community. To show these damn Coyote Rights Activists that, no, these communities are ruled by people, not the goddamn wild animals.