Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Your Dog is More Dangerous Than a Coyote

A coyote heads off near the Boulder Reservoir last month.

A coyote heads off near the Boulder Reservoir last month.

A columnist in the Denver Post today talks with some common-sense Greenwood Village residents circulating petitions to stop the killing of coyotes in their city.

After a spike in dog/human/coyote incidents, the city hired sharpshooters to kill “aggressive” coyotes with high-powered rifles within the city’s park system.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has killed several coyotes in the city of Broomfield in response to a couple of well-publicized dog/human/coyote interactions in that city earlier this year. The DOW, which knows that killing the animals doesn’t address the problem – its spokesperson recently said that if the entire United States were paved with asphalt, we would still be living with coyotes — is instead overreacting to mostly misguided public fears that somehow “more aggressive” coyotes have become a threat to our well-being and our way of life.

These knee-jerk, appease-the-populace reactions will almost certainly guarantee that the cities will continue to experience dog/human/coyote interactions. Greenwood Village says its main goal is to educate, and to its credit has generally good advice about coyotes on its website.

But instead of vigorously enforcing current leash laws (which is the underlying reason for almost every one of these so-called “attacks”), the city has decided to blame the wild animals. It’s so much easier than actually dealing with the problem.

I think most people who have been around animals understand that most animal-behavior problems are really human-behavior problems. Even people who experience the harshest of wild-animal interactions – being mauled by a grizzly – generally understand their own culpability in an “attack.”

The word “attack” has all sorts of negative connotations. This YouTube video, for instance, is labeled as an “attack” by a polar bear. My immediate reaction to the video is that there was no attack, except perhaps that the woman could be seen as attacking the bears by jumping into their enclosure. But had the bear chosen to “attack,” the woman would certainly not be alive to tell her story. The bear, though it appears to bite her on the ass, seems more curious about the intruder than anything else.

Despite the biblical injunction about dominion over animals, humans have never been good stewards of wildlife; indeed we seem incapable of “managing” wild animals beyond exterminating them when they become nuisances.

Think of the consequences of the United States’ decision, for instance, to eliminate the top predators, wolves and grizzly bears from the entire Western ecosystem to accommodate ranchers with cattle and sheep, The consequences of that decision still reverberate across the Western landscape, with no end in sight.

One of the effects is that about half a million coyotes, along with hundreds of thousands of other animals, under the guise of “wildlife management,” are killed every year under the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division. Despite the annual slaughter, which in 2008 was almost five MILLION animals, coyote numbers are increasing around the country, even in places that have never seen coyotes before. (For more on coyote behavior, here’s an excellent report from Marc Bekoff in Canid News.

In Colorado, the DOW and Greenwood Village council members over-reacted mostly to appease the fears of a small percentage of citizens. And instead of concentrating on human behavior (“my dog is under control, even without the leash,” “I left my leash at home,” “My dog wouldn’t hurt a fly,” “Why aren’t you out catching real criminals?”), we seem to easily defer to expecting the animals to change theirs. And if the animals, in this case coyotes, don’t comply: Bang, you’re dead.

There’s one constant in the spike in dog/human/coyote interactions in the Denver area: Off-leash dogs were involved and often initiated contact with the coyotes. The inference is, of course, that coyotes, because they’re wild, “attack” dogs, which are “tame.”

If you’ve been around animals, you know that’s not a given. The coyotes might have attacked the dogs, but it’s equally probable that the dogs, off-leash and curious as all dogs are, approached the coyotes, who, perceiving them as attackers, responded accordingly. We won’t know exactly what happened – eyewitness accounts are wildly inconclusive  — but what if the dogs were the aggressors and the coyotes just defending themselves or their territory? Would we shoot the dogs?

But it’s easy to make some sort of distinction between wild animals and pets, even if domestic animals are just wild animals bred to be tame. (Consider, for instance, that if your housecat weighed 105 pounds, she might consider you a snack instead of a food provider and a lap to sit in.)

Our general fears in this regard are completely out of balance with reality. Domestic dogs are inherently more dangerous to humans than coyotes ever will be. Domestic dogs actually do kill people — and many dogs that kill were trained to do so by humans.

Only one or two human deaths in history have ever been attributed to a coyote. More than FOUR MILLION Americans are treated for domestic dog bites EACH YEAR, and 10-15 people annually are fatally attacked by domestic dogs.

But hey, it’s easier to blame the coyotes than change our behavior, right?


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