May 2, 2012 in Sports

Landers: Coyotes aren’t the main problem

By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Outdoors editor and columnist Rich Landers.
(Full-size photo)

Coyotes defending their pups on the bluff below High Drive last week – sending a few dogs to the vet for stitches – created a minor stink on the South Hill.

The discussions emerged after The S-R ran a couple of stories on the coyote attacks and discovery of the den near a popular trail. Part of the discussion coming my way via email, Facebook and blog posts centered on whether coyotes should be shunned or welcomed in the city.

However, the debate that raised hackles and bared teeth was on the issue of loose-running dogs.

Coyotes aren’t new in the city. Song dogs are amazingly adaptable to surviving around the urban interface with little conflict.

However, let’s applaud the people who contacted the newspaper and TV to spread word their dogs were injured by protective coyotes last week. They likely helped a few other people and their pets avoid the short-term hazard.

Dogs on leashes seemed to be tolerated in the area if people moved on through. Several loose dogs away from their owners were confronted or attacked.

Of course, the publicity also encouraged a few people to frequent the area to see the family wildlife spectacle in their backyard.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials had no intention of doing crowd control, but they offer good online tips on Living with Coyotes under the “Dangerous wildlife” section at wdfw.wa.gov/living.

Tops on the list: Don’t feed them. I’ve been waiting for somebody to post photos of their small child posing at the den opening with a chicken leg.

Coyotes and many other species such as wild turkeys are much better neighbors if they have a constantly simmering fear of people.

The South Hill coyote family is likely to relocate. It’s fairly common for coyotes to carry their young pups one by one by the fur of their necks from a disturbed den.

I’ve seen badgers doing this, too, as they try to keep their family one step ahead of predation.

Either way, a new family of six pups means the coyote parents have to provide a lot more food. They hunt, eat, transport the food back to the den in their tummies and regurgitate the warm tenderized meal for their young to eat.

Which brings us to some of the pros and cons of having coyotes in the neighborhood:

They prey largely on rodents.

They’re enjoyable to watch as they slink, run and hunt.

They raid garbage and pet food if available.

They can attack pets, even large dogs.

They occasionally attack people, notably small children.

They thin out suburban deer that otherwise have no other predators except cars and pickups.

They help control nuisance urban wild turkeys, as I noted Monday near Hangman Creek while watching a coyote raid a nest of turkey eggs.

They’re highly effective at harvesting stray cats, which are among the most lethal threats to urban birds across the nation.

I’ll let you sort those items into pro-con categories as you see fit.

Unleashed dogs aren’t new around town, either.

Nor are they unnoticed, as I learned after writing about loose-running dogs that were bitten by the adult coyotes protecting the South Hill bluff den.

For the record, Spokane County Code 5.04.070 prohibits running dogs off leash except in designated off-leash dog parks.

Of course, that law is violated as commonly as a 55 mph speed limit.

The rule is as polarizing as any hot-button issue you can name.

One mountain biker told me she regularly pedals the South Hill bluff trails with her dog running behind her, while another mountain biker said he hates loose running dogs after one darted in front of him on the same trails and caused a crash.

Numerous people said dogs are meant to be free. Almost all of those said their dogs are well mannered, obedient and come when called.

Another man said he’s never seen a dog that immediately came when called by its master while hiking the South Hill bluff trails.

The top two complaints I received about loose-running dogs:

Owners let their dogs run out of sight and poop to avoid the inconvenience of picking up the droppings.

Uncontrolled dogs often rushing up to strangers and get in their way as they walk or bike or pose the uncertainty of whether they’ll be aggressive.

The people put out the most by loose-running dogs are those who walk with their dogs on a leash. Leashed dogs are magnets for loose dogs, and the encounters aren’t always pleasant for the person holding the leash.

From personal experience, both of my dogs, while by my side on leash, have been bitten on different occasions by dogs that were running ahead of their owners to greet us as we hiked on suburban trails.

In all cases, the owners were yelling, “It’s OK, he’s friendly” or “Don’t worry” or “He doesn’t bite.” Chomp.

I have never met an owner who could call back his/her dog as it rushed my leashed dogs on a trail.

Like most people, I love dogs.

But there are legitimate reasons to cheer for coyotes that occasionally move in and persuade people to consider another point of view.


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