I Was Stalked by a Coyote

Colorado coyoteThis morning, during a jog with my Jack Russell terrier close to my suburban home in Westminster (Colo.), I was stalked by a coyote.

I spotted him running across the ice in a retaining pond along 108th Avenue, about a quarter mile west of Wadsworth Parkway. He stopped to look at me and I made an abrupt screechy hiss to scare him off. He was momentarily startled. He turned around and continued on his way. Five minutes later, as I glanced back over my shoulder to see where he went, I saw him coming up the embankment and looking right at me. I continue walking away and he continued to slink forward, the whole time looking at me—tentatively but with a creepy focus.

Earlier this week, coincidentally, I read an article about the increased incidence of  coyote attacks in the March 2010 issue of Outside Magazine. Apparently, eastern coyotes have hybridized in certain places in the northeast to behave like wolves, traveling in small packs and attacking animals as large as deer. Two coyotes attacked and killed a lone hiker in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in eastern Canada in the Fall of 2009. Here in the west, the article states, coyotes have not bred with wolves and still behave like opportunistic solitary animals. From what I know of recent media reports, coyotes here in Colorado are known to snatch unleashed small pets from yards, open space and suburban wildlife corridors, and occasionally (but rarely) approach or attack humans.

I had this idea that if I crossed the road the coyote would be deterred from following me if he saw cars zooming between us and him. Normally, 108th Avenue this time of the morning is heavier with vehicle traffic. Not this morning, unfortunately. Only a couple of cars drove by in the anxious few minutes during which I watched the coyote move closer—still across the street—but looking at me and Skillet intently.

Crap. Now what? I thought. I was still a good half mile away from my house. Behind me was a neighborhood of tract homes I could walk into, and hopefully find shelter on someone’s porch if necessary. I knew from reading that article that the worst thing I could do was act like prey by running. Although, that’s exactly what I felt like doing. I wanted to grab my dog up into my arms and run like hell.

Then I spotted an SUV stopped at the intersection only yards away. I knew the driver was surveying the scene because he wasn’t moving. I decided to flag him or her down and ask for a ride down the road – just far enough to get away from the predator.

The driver of the SUV pulled up next to me and offered me a ride even before I could ask. He was a nice, elderly man who in fact was watching what was happening and knew I was in trouble. He kindly drove me back down to my neighborhood.

I am guessing the coyote wasn’t after me. He was after my little white dog. Another reason not to take your dog on a contemplative hike (ha ha! Although I was just out for exercise, not contemplation). In the future, I’ll be sure to bring a cellphone and the big can of pepper spray I keep at home in case I go walking in an adjacent neighborhood that has a lot of loose dogs. I know the key here is not to overreact and not to let this incident keep me from walking my dog. Coyotes need to know that human interaction of any kind is unpleasant. When they’re successful in snatching cats or small dogs away from their owners and yards, they learn, and they pass that information onto their young.

Coyotes are being pushed out of natural habitat by development, and have learned to co-exist with humans out of necessity. Sometimes that means eating out of compost bins, hunting pets out of the grasp of their owners and scoring on pet food that’s been left outside. It’s the same with black bears and any other wild animals. They’re not out to get us, they just learn that they can get an easy breakfast without much fuss. It’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t make it easier for them to eat from our yard then to hunt down a prairie dog or rabbit.

I suppose if that kind man hadn’t given us a ride nothing else may have happened. The coyote was walking slowly, unsure if we were safe to stalk or not. Maybe I could have gotten away and that would have been the end of that. Or, he might have gathered enough courage to attack, in which case he would have had to jump me and extricate my dog out of my clutch. I don’t know, and I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.

Being stalked by a wild animal is probably the most excitement I’ll experience all day.

Here’s a video that’s funny and informative on how to haze a coyote.