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The Tale of Wile E. Coyote and Feste the Hero 
2nd-May-2009 05:18 pm
The vet clinic is closed on Saturday afternoons and the vet on call is sick in bed himself (sinus infection), but I had to haul him out anyway. My nine-year-old standard poodle, Fleece, was attacked by a coyote this afternoon. She was bleeding impressively from two deep punctures where the coyote's jaws had closed on her left hind leg, and I didn't know how to evaluate that kind of injury well enough to wait till Monday.

I live on a hundred acres of recovering farmland in Anderson County, Kentucky. The place is teeming with wildlife, including coyotes. I'm happy to have them here. They're the only large predators around, and the ecosystem needs them. The farmers shoot them as vermin, but I'm not a farmer. I do, however, have two dogs (see userpic), and I've been aware since we moved here that the dogs could not be allowed to run loose without supervision because of the coyote presence. Even a fairly large domestic dog is no match for one of these big eastern coyotes; they're the size of German shepherds and grimly serious hunters, especially this time of year, when there are pups to be fed. Pets get taken all the time.

I'm still happy to have them here, but we've all had a scare. What happened was this. The dogs and I walk every day to the end of a ridge path about three-fifths of a mile long, that I keep mowed with my trusty DR Field and Brush Mower, one pass up and one pass back.

About halfway to the northwest corner of the property, which is where the mowed path ends and we turn around, there's a check point. Fleece walks on heel that far; I keep her brother Feste, who's never learned to heel, on a short lead. At the check point we stop, I unclip Feste's lead, and the dogs get to run ahead to the end of the path and wait for me there. This arrangement keeps them under pretty good wraps while still giving them a chance to stretch their legs.

There's a bluebird nest box on a pole at the check point. Today I had released the dogs and stopped to look in on the resident chickadees. I had just closed the box when I heard Fleece scream, looked up, and saw Feste running for his life, a streak of black lightning, with a much larger yellow-brown top predator hot on his heels. I yelled and yelled and yelled again--at that distance, about all I could do--as they passed out of view. An instant later Feste was running lickity-split back toward me and the coyote was nowhere to be seen.

By this time I'd caught up with Fleece. I saw that she was shaking all over, but didn't immediately realize she'd been bitten, since Feste had seemed the intended target and was unhurt. When I saw she was bleeding we walked the half mile home is tight formation--Fleece in a kind of daze, Feste looking over his shoulder every few feet--and I called the vet.

While he was stapling Fleece back together, we tried to reconstruct what had happened. Why did the coyote take off after Feste when he already had a grip on Fleece (quite a strong grip; those were pretty good puncture holes). The vet's suggestion seems right: Feste must have attacked the coyote, distracting or irritating him or her enough that s/he let go of Fleece and took off after Feste. I've noticed the two of them packing up when they play with other dogs; he actually might have attacked instinctively when he realized Fleece was in trouble. Feste has a knee problem he takes prednisone for, but terror has a way of dampening mere pain; I've never seen him run so fast. A good thing too. A very good thing the two of them were together, that I was close by, that the coyote was impressed by my frantic yelling, that the bite didn't hamstring Fleece or otherwise do more damage. Make no mistake: it was a very close call. She was just that close to being killed.
3rd-May-2009 12:51 pm (UTC) - how awful!
I remember Fleece and Feste and walking that path with you on a visit to your place a few years ago. And checking a bluebird nest box, seeing the chicks in a star-like formation. What a horrible thing to happen. I'm really glad F&F are okay and that you were able to get her to the vet. What a story. Thinking of you.
3rd-May-2009 01:23 pm (UTC) - Re: how awful!
Thanks so much for your message. It helps ME that you can picture the whole scene with such precision. Fleece is very stiff this morning but is otherwise much as usual, and Feste's knee seems none the worse for its wild workout. I'M the one standing on the deck, looking out at the view, and thinking Et ego in Arcadia.
11th-Jul-2010 11:40 pm (UTC) - Re: how awful!
Jenn, if that's you, please email me. I got a message that you were inviting me to be your friend on Facebook, and I'm not ON Facebook and don't plan to be, but I wanted you to know that and not just not reply. This is a desperation move; I don't know how else to reach you.
3rd-May-2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad that Fleece and Feste are going to be okay. A Bouvier des Flandres jumped one of my Aussie cattle dogs once and the other was all over the Boov before I could blink. Fortunately everyone involved escaped with no damage, but it was a heart stopping moment for me. I never realized until that moment how loyal domestic dogs can be to their pack. We talk about "pack" so much in domestic dog training, but it's never quite so visible to human eyes than when peril strikes.

And mine was just a badly behaved domestic dog; the whole thought of coyote attacks makes me a little light headed. I lived many years deep in coyote territory and have a healthy respect for the damage they can do.
3rd-May-2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
I'm a big Dog Whisperer fan; I've heard Cesar speak over and over of "the power of the pack," and refer to all the members of a household, human and animal, as a pack. But I guess I took that mostly as a metaphor, till yesterday. Your story convinces me that Feste really must have plunged into the fray. I wish I'd seen it! He's such a little chicken, all on his own, and that coyote was three times his size. But I guess, when faced with a primal situation, something just clicks in their heads.

I'm glad your Aussies were okay--and that there were two of them!
3rd-May-2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
P.S. Feste definitely deserves his own entry in animalheroes.
3rd-May-2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
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