On any morning walk, no matter how early or how cold, I see people outdoors with their dogs. The dogs, far more wide-awake than I, dash across parks in joyous pursuit of tennis balls. People cherish the companionship of their pets. It was sad, last week, to see, on the front page of the MetroWest Daily News, the photograph of the bereaved owners of a small dog that had been killed by a coyote.
The report said a pack of coyotes had been in the neighborhood, and law enforcement officials pledged their destruction—which was achieved the following day, when four coyotes—two adults, a male and a female, and two "sub-adults," also a male and a female—were shot near the Sudbury River.
That word “pack” connotes a gang of ruffians looking for trouble. Because eastern coyotes usually live in monogamous pairs, often accompanied by their offspring, the word “family” just as accurately describes the relationship of these four animals.
Coyotes are social, but we people are even more so. I supposed that's why our strongest motivations stem from feelings. We protect weaker beings that need our care and that return our love. Those of us who appreciate wildlife extend our concern to the free-living creatures who must sustain themselves on thin winter pickings, or perish. Berries are gone, and woodchucks and chipmunks are underground, so coyotes must compete with fishers, foxes, and birds of prey to capture squirrels, rabbits, and mice. And, occasionally, pet dogs and cats.
Our suburban towns try to give wildlife room to be wild by setting aside some habitat as refuges, reservations, and parks. Sudbury Valley Trustees has historically worked with towns and landowners to preserve community character by maintaining a balance of land uses, and we continue to do so today.
But conservation of habitat is not enough. Incidents like the deaths of the dog and the four coyotes remind us that co-existence with wildlife requires some thought on our part. Online at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/dfwcoy.htm , MassWildlife has an excellent page about coyotes, including a section on preventing conflicts that states, “Remember, everything a coyote does is related to a potential meal,” and lists ten specific instructions to make sure you’re not inadvertently attracting coyotes.
It would be nice if there were a simple solution to the problem. I'm told that at least one terrier owes his life to a shock-collar. The coyote that grabbed him by the neck and tried to carry him across a back-yard property line received a sudden jolt in the mouth, dropped the dog, and returned to the woods. Although such a happy unintended consequence of this technological protection is amusing, it’s probably not a reliable method.
Our towns are richer because we share them with spirited free creatures who cope with nature on its own harsh terms. I hope in the future we can find less violent ways of protecting our pets, and become more effective at avoiding conflicts with wild families.