August 8, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Good Dogs, Bad Dogs

A dog is a dog, is a dog.

Gertrude Steinsnoopy

I just found out that the federal government (Department of Agriculture) employs professional hunters in this area to kill coyotes. This came as a surprise to me, because the voting public has voiced its sentiment that the killing of predators is not something that they want. The cougar is now almost completely protected. This was done by the use of an initiative, which I do not consider the best way to manage wildlife. I would prefer to leave it to the professionals. However, I am beginning to have my doubts.

Now, before a cougar can be killed, there must be evidence that it has attacked livestock, humans, or domestic animals. Attempts are being made to re-introduce the wolf and grizzly bear to national parks. But not so the coyote; it is considered guilty and can be killed just because it exists.

The coyote (Canis latrans) is a dog that can interbreed with domestic dogs, and it does, when it can. Usually it stays away from people and their animals. A coyote will eat anything, dead or alive, that it can find. One of its favorite foods is the jackrabbit and it is a major player in keeping rabbit population under control. Coyotes usually are solitary hunters, but sometimes hunt in pairs.

According to William H. Burt, an acknowledged expert on mammals: "Since this country was settled, there has always been a bounty somewhere on the Coyote. The bounty has not reduced its numbers. Much of the damage to livestock attributed to Coyote is probably done by wild dogs. Coyotes kill many rodents and rabbits and in this way do a real service to the rancher. But they may also occasionally kill sheep and calves."

My wife worked in a private school in Walnut Creek that had a few sheep. One morning they found the sheep gutted. This was probably the work of a pack of dogs, since there were no coyotes there. The dogs were probably some people's pets which were allowed to roam free.

A rancher neighbor of mine used to shoot any roaming dogs that he saw. I didn't blame him. Now that he is gone, the wild dog population seems to me to be on the increase. Unlike the coyote, wild dogs tend to hunt in packs and are potentially very dangerous to livestock.

The same bigotry that leads people to condemn whole races and ethnic groups of people also is used against dogs. For a while, there was a pit bull hysteria. Pit bulls were all thought to be vicious animals. This, despite the fact that pit bulls can be very fine and gentle pets. It all depends on the owner and how the animal is trained. I have heard that one breed of bull dog was bred and trained as watch-dogs for children. A child could maul the dog as much as it wished and the dog would tolerate it. If a stranger tried to take the child, the dog would go for the throat.

I used to own an Airedale. I got him from the pound. He was in the pound because he would stalk and attack mailmen, and only mailmen. It was as if he had a personal grudge against them. We had to keep him chained whenever there was a possibility that a mailman was in the vicinity. We also had to tell our children's friends not to fight, or even pretend fights, with our kids, because Ruffy was very protective and he would attack any person or animal that menaced our children. He tolerated our cat. One day, when he had had enough of her bullying, he picked her up in his mouth and shook her. She stayed away from him after that.

A coyote is just a wild dog. I believe that before a whole species of animal is condemned, that it is entitled to the same justice people are entitled to: reliable evidence that the specific animal has committed the crimes that it is accused of. Going after coyotes in an area just because someone thinks that a coyote might have killed his stock makes no sense to me.

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