1. What was your first exposure to the animal in question? What were the first emotional or symbolic associations you formed to the animal in question?
Honestly, my first meeting with Coyote was when I was watching the Bugs Bunny Show... Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius, is not too far off from many southwestern stories involving Coyote - trickster who tricks himself the most. I identified with Wile for some reason, maybe because I was a misfit & things never worked out right for me. And I fell down a lot.
The area in California where I started my life is closer to the deserts of Arizona than the beaches of Los Angeles or the redwoods of San Francisco & coyotes were common to hear at night, off in the not-so-distant distance, laughing & calling one another, riling all the neighborhood dogs up. Even though coyotes were seldom seen in western Washington, there's still Coyote in the Northwestern tribes' tales... Coyotes always had the reputation of being child-snatchers & pet-eaters. When I was 5, we had a dog that was a German Shepherd-coyote mix - Spike was the only dog I've ever met that could actually squeeze himself under a couch when frightened by a thunderstorm - and he could climb up a vertical piece of plywood like a ninja. There was no fence or rope that could keep Spike in the yard if he didn't want to stay.
For me, Coyote has always made me feel at home. When I see a coyote cross the road in front of the car, or see one in the ditches or washes, or hear them at night, I know I'm where I belong.
2. What nonfiction books have you read about this animal? Have you watched any documentaries about this animal? Did any of these provide more depth of information than the others? Did any of them conflict on the facts they gave? If so, how could you go about finding which ones are more accurate?
From the time I was a little kid, I spent more time in the zoology section of the library than anywhere else (except maybe the occult section). I wasn't just interested in horses like other little girls, I ran the gamut from marine biology to paleontology to theories about how animals would evolve in the future. There was a book I read about coyotes that I've been trying to find ever since... of course, I can't remember the title & the book must've been written in the 60's... it wasn't exactly a 'children's' animal book but it had illustrations & larger print... maybe a 'young adults' book about coyotes? I read & re-read that book time & time again. I've read what are probably the most iconic 'coyote' books, God's Dog by Hope Ryden & The Coyote: Defiant Songdog of the West by Francois Leydet, and I've got Track of the Coyote sitting on a bookshelf somewhere.
To naturalists, coyotes are not much of a mystery. I just read a book, The Daily Coyote, that kind of pissed me off. A woman moved to Oklahoma & ended up adopting a coyote puppy - and she's pretty stupid where even basic dog behavior is concerned. Even an experienced dog owner would probably think twice about raising a wolf or coyote (at least, a good dog owner - Jody is the exception), but this woman apparently only had ever really been exposed to her pet cat. She was terrified of the coyote even as a puppy when he attempted to bite her, and fell apart when he did seriously latch onto her & when he tried to pull dominance tricks on her. I kept having to remind myself that just because I was raised by huge hybrid dogs (Huskies, Malamutes, Spike, etc.) didn't mean everyone has been. Even now, at 8 months, Chelsie is only about 65lbs. but she is quite capable of biting the shit out of me - and I throw her on her back & shake her like a ragdoll when she tries to pull rank.
Coyotes aren't as much of a pack animal as wolves, but they do have a similar dog-like pack hierarchy, even though their packs really only consist of the mother, father & pups from one or two litters. The female is the primary den builder, the male provides food during whelping... coydogs are quite uncommon in nature unless someone has a captive coyote dam or sire, mainly because a stray male dog does not have the instincts to take care of a coyote bitch while she was pregnant (not to mention that the female coyote would be more likely to lead a male dog into a pack of other coyotes for dinner) & a female dog would be more likely to be eaten by a male coyote. Coyotes aren't pure carnivores and their threat to livestock is highly overestimated - it's more common to find trash in a dead coyote's stomach than lamb or calf - and they love watermelon. Northern & Eastern coyotes are larger, with thicker fur & heavier builds, and there has probably been some hybridization between coyotes & timber wolves. Southwestern coyotes are smaller, thinner & rangier, with lighter coats. The biggest difference between a wolf & a coyote, other than the sheer size of wolves, is that coyotes have a pointy narrow muzzle and enormous pointy ears. Coyotes, mainly because of their size, fall prey to mountain lions, wolves, feral dogs, large eagles & ravens, bears... and because man can't stand the idea of competition or trespassing, humans.
3. Have you encountered any fictional books, movies, or television shows starring this animal? If so, how realistically was the animal portrayed? If the animal was anthropomorphized (talking animals, animals with human societies), in what way did the process of anthropomorphism bring the animal closer to human ideals? Were the animals shown as friendly and heroic or mean and villainous? How do you think these depictions color the way our culture views the animal’s natural behavior? How do you think these depictions may have colored your own view of the animal’s natural behavior?
Wile E. Coyote was close to the mythical Coyote, but very far from a real coyote, and even as a child I understood that. A coyote in the wild would not have been obsessed over a roadrunner. In fact, a coyote would have looked for easier prey long before resorting to Acme products. The coyote in popular imagery is often shown wearing a bandanna & howling at the moon, icon of the Southwest and interior decoration, but Coyote is not nearly as popular in fiction as say, Wolf or Raven. In Carlos Castaneda's books, he mentions that Mexican diableros turn themselves into coyotes. In Native American myths, there is Coyote and there is coyote. While they are the same, they are also different. Coyotes rile up the camp dogs & steal food left to smoke & dry, Coyote riles up the camp women and steals fire...
4. When your research into an animal brings forth a fact that conflicts with your current view of it, how do you react? For instance, if you associate wolves primarily with strong, friendly family bonds, how did you react to learning that brutal harassment and killing occur within wolf packs? (If this fact is new to you, research the history of the Druid Peak pack of Yellowstone and the killing of a wolf called Number 40F.) Did this knowledge change your opinion of the animal? If so, how?
I appreciate every new thing I learn about coyotes... they live on the fringes of our cities. The harder we push them, the more they adapt to surviving alongside us. They get onto subway trains & into banks in major cities, they harass the emus out at Bonnie Springs' petting zoo... One night, in the middle of a busy metropolis, I heard all the neighborhood dogs barking. To be a shit, I went outside & howled into the night. I got the surprise of my life when I heard that yipping song coming back at me, not just one lone voice far off in the distance, but several - and quite close. It shut me the Hel up. I accept that yes, sometimes coyotes do kill livestock and sometimes deterrents aren't affective - no matter how many dogs & motion-sensor lights a rancher might have cannot always prevent a hungry predator from taking an easy meal. I know coyotes carry rabies & parvo. I know that yes, they do pose a threat to pets and small children left unattended. Animal behavior never surprises me or disgusts me, especially when it's an animal who is pushed to the limits of its natural habitat & forced to deal with unbearable pressure and stress on a daily basis. In the same light, the behavior of humans never surprises me, either, because we are animals, too. It does disgust me because supposedly we know better and we do have the ability to overcome our instinctive urges to destroy.
5. When you think of the animal, do you only focus on traits you find admirable? Are you able to objectively admit to and face the things about the animal that may be disturbing, repulsive, or uncomfortable to reflect on? Do you think you can find a way to assimilate your knowledge of the animal into a more holistic view, resisting the urge to romanticize or vilify?
I pretty much answered that question in the one above it.
6. Do you see this animal as being somehow “better” than other animals? If so, why? Does this view come from an emotional reaction or from objective observation? Even if this animal is your personal favorite, are you able to appreciate the uniqueness and importance of other animals?
Yes, I do favor coyote above other wild dogs. I like the idea that since my dog is mostly Catahoula Leopard Hound, she most likely has some coyote in her - and it's very clear when she eats carrots & watermelon. Coyotes, because they do spend a lot of their time solitary, have to be clever to eat, and they are more opportunistic and adaptable than other wild dogs. Wolves bore me. But I don't compare animals with one another. No animal is 'better' than any other animal, no animal is 'worse' than any other animal.
7. What is the relationship of humans to this animal? Are you able to put aside any anger and negative feelings (even if it may be justified) to come up with constructive ideas on how humans can better coexist with this animal? Are there any actions that you can initiate yourself that may help this animal and its habitat?
For some reason, people hate coyotes. They want to destroy coyotes, erase the animal from the land. They are seen as vermin & pests. They are reviled and some of the ways people go about trapping and hunting coyotes is stomach-turning, to say the least. I've seen some of it first-hand. Traps that are designed to snap around the dog's muzzle instead of a leg. Can you imagine having your face cut off or crushed, mangled, to such an extent? To wander, suffering in intense pain, prey to infection and gangrene and starving? I've seen huge pits of slaughtered 'downer' cattle & sheep where the piles of bodies are laced with traps & snares, an abbatoir with no other purpose than to lure coyotes (and other scavengers) to their deaths - and that's a Hel of a thing to encounter when you're 8. Muzzled or toothless coyotes are used to condition dogs to hunt & kill coyotes. Coyotes are still hunted from pick-up trucks & light planes. When the Fish & Game or Agriculture Dept. sanctioned hunters find a den of coyote pups, they dig them out & crush their skulls. At the Indiana Coyote Rescue, a coyote in a pen was shot in the face by someone - she lost her eye. Boy, that was great sport, wasn't it?
Honestly, coyote could probably peacefully coexist with us. We feed them with our garbage dumps & by leaving small pets outside unattended, we built teeming cities with plenty of hiding places, and we are largely diurnal. Unfortunately, people can't live peacefully with other animals. There is no solution.
8. Is there anything else you can do to learn about this animal, objectively and for its own sake?
If I was the enterprising sort, I could go out into the desert & observe coyotes in the wild. I could move to Indiana & volunteer at the Coyote Rescue. I could pick up some more of the books I saw on amazon.com, even some of the ones written about how to hunt coyotes - hunters are very observant of their chosen prey's lifestyle.
9. After learning as much factual information about the animal as possible, can you think of any ways to express your more emotional, personal, and spiritual connection to it? How can you integrate the scientific knowledge you’ve gained and your emotional connections in a way that is honest, healthy, and rewarding?
I think I do pretty good. I'm blessed by the virtue of not being a romanticist. I'm a practical person. I see in coyote a lot of qualities that I possess, but coyotes are wild dogs & I'm a human bean. Coyote-with-a-capital-C and coyote came into my life at a time when I needed some crazy wisdom, the ability to get out of traps & snares even if it meant chewing my own leg off, the ability to eat poison & not die, the ability to survive on the fringes & take from other people only that which was absolutely necessary to my survival & not a bone more. I also needed to learn to laugh at myself & occasionally get an anvil dropped on my head when I wasn't paying attention.