By Jim Minick
Last summer, while hiking our farm, the dogs and I found a string of bloody innards coloring the grass. We followed the gut trail to a spring and beside it, the body of a coyote. The dogs circled, noses alert, ears back, all of us wanting to make sure the creature was dead. She was. Her fur had that mix of gray, white and tan like our shepherd, but mottled with dried blood. One of our neighbors shot it and it wandered here to die.
Like my neighbors, most people hate coyotes, but I don’t — I like them a lot. They’re funny, brilliant and tough — and they’re not going away. So all of you out there thinking it’d be wild fun to blow a hole in the head of another wild dog, listen up.
Where I live in the mountains of Virginia, I often hear coyotes howling. Every year, they den somewhere nearby, yet I’ve only seen a living coyote on our farm five times in a dozen years. The first happened when we hiked too close to a den and a pup came charging out to scare us away. It yipped from the lip of its hole, and it unsettled all of us, including our three dogs who each weighed twice as much as the coyote. But the pup thrilled me too — here was something small and fierce and dangerous. Something fully alive in this world, ready to attack, even if it meant its own death.
As in most places, Virginia has an open season on what it calls “nuisance species,” meaning you can kill these creatures anytime and in any number. My neighbors farm cattle, and coyotes occasionally eat calves. They also occasionally eat small dogs and cats, but usually they hunt rabbits, raccoons, fawns, berries and garbage.
Like Homo sapiens, they are voracious and prolific. They’ve learned to manipulate litter size to fit a certain territory and its prey. So my neighbors kill what coyotes they can and the next year the population rebounds. Our government joins the killing party, using our tax dollars. In 2013, the USDA’s Wildlife Services killed 75,326 coyotes.
But one study found that even if we killed 70 percent of the coyotes in a given area, the population could still survive “indefinitely.” And if all that human energy succeeded in trapping, poisoning and bounty-hunting a region’s population to zero, the coyotes would be back, in the same density, in three to five years. In other words, kill one, and 50 come to the funeral.
And they’re everywhere. Coyotes don’t just live out West or in rural areas. They inhabit most major cities and every state except Hawaii. Chicago, for example, has as many as 2,000 patrolling its streets nightly, eating rats, goose eggs and left-out pet food.
Besides their resilience, smarts and toughness, I love most their wildness. They remind us that we are all animals, all dining at the great feast of life.
That dead coyote I found by the spring — I froze the carcass and gave it to a friend who stuffed it. Now it stands by his fireplace, just enough of its wildness still present to make his dogs and visitors uncomfortable. Just enough wildness to remind us what lurks outside the patio door.
Jim Minick teaches creative nonfiction in Converse College’s low-residency MFA program. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.