Shiva and I met a coyote last week. We weren’t hiking in the mountains or bushwhacking in the woods. It was 6:30 on a Monday morning and we had just begun our ritual walk in the ravine. I saw movement ahead and my first assumption was an off-leash dog. Before I could even roll my eyes, the animal turned to trot in our direction and I knew my initial inclinations were wrong. There was no mistaking the confidence of a wild predator. This was no muttski.
He, or she, was thinner than other coyotes I’ve seen. Rangier, even, than the photo I nicked from Wikipedia to the left. The animal, whatever his or her sex, was built almost like Shiva. He was the same height and shape, only with less muscle and lacking her adorable puppiness. I haven’t spotted one in Alberta for a long time, not since I lived in the South and I would see them wandering down the side of a prairie road. Shiva and I hear them often but seeing them is rare. In a way, we were lucky.
Shiva doesn’t have a lot of experience with predator-type animals. Or any. Her response to most of the wild creatures we have encountered is much the same. Raccoon… Friend! Duck… Friend! Deer… Friend! Porcupine… Best! Friend! Ever! For the most part, she sees the world as full of animals dying to be sniffed. Her sole objective is to get her nose up the other animal’s bottom as soon as she possibly can. I had hope that she would be smart enough to tell the difference between a rabbit and a species who could cause he harm.
I was wrong.
Shiva responded to the sight of the coyote with the same alert anticipation she responds to off-leash dogs. Cautious, to be sure, but not afraid. Ears erect, tail high on her back, she wanted to investigate. If she hadn’t been connected to me via a thick nylon cord, she probably would have. Would this have been a problem? It’s hard to say. It was just one coyote. In all likelihood, he or she would have taken off and all would have been as normal. Then again, I wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk.
I am still unsure as the best thing to do in this scenario. While I have read all the books and heard all of the well-meaning advice, I don’t know if there is any one right way to respond. Sometimes the right thing turns out to be wrong and sometimes the dumb thing turns out to be smart. Show no fear, they say. Don’t look weak. Stand your ground. In an actual dangerous situation, I think all one can do is trust her instincts. More often than not, my instincts tell me to get the heck out of there.
Not that I think Shiva and I were in any danger. The coyote was far enough away and outnumbered. There was no need to do anything. Still, I chose to leave the park and take a different route. It seemed more reasonable at the time. Who needs that kind of stress on a Monday?
It makes me wonder, however, if I need to prepare myself better for future encounters. We live in bear country now and if I am going to follow through with my goals to hit up the back country this year, it is very possible a coyote will be the least of our problems. It’s not just my safety I have to worry about. The quickest way to ruin a good backpacking trip is to watch Shiva run up to a Grizzly and shove her nose up his butt.
Do you have any dog-wild predator encounter stories? How did you handle it? What do you do when you see a coyote?