At this point in my career, I’ve given enough presentations on how to peacefully coexist with wildlife that I am somewhat of an expert on the subject. So when I encountered a coyote the other night, I was a little surprised by my own reaction to the incident.
Growing up in the Los Angeles area, I’ve encountered my fair share of coyotes in person. Usually, I see them off in the distance and have plenty of space between us to feel at ease. I always practice safe hazing techniques to remind them to be afraid of humans.
This can be a struggle for someone like me, because my first instinct when I see a beautiful animal is say hello and strike up a conversation which involves me babbling baby talk to them because they are all so “cutey patootie sweet widdle precious faces, aren’t you? Aren’t you the cutest widdle wove bug???”
So it usually takes me a minute to remember that these are wild animals, and not characters from a Disney animated classic.
This time was different.
It was late, and I was taking Maddie and Ollie out for their final walk of the night before bed. By this point in the evening, all three of us were having a hard enough time keeping our eyes open, much less walk a straight line down the block to their favorite potty spot.
That is, until we (quite literally) almost ran into a coyote that was walking along the sidewalk walking in our direction. It was only about 6 feet away from us, which is great for social distancing but a little too close for comfort for a wild animal that could easily nab one of my dogs for a late night snack.
At first, I thought it was just another dog that one of my neighbors was walking at the same time. When I didn’t see a human companion, my next thought was, “oh, this poor dog is lost!”
As it got closer, it finally dawned on me that this was no lost pet.
I froze. All of the sudden, all of my training was erased from my brain while I struggled to figure out what to do next. Fortunately, Maddie did the thinking for me and started barking her head off like a demented alarm clock. Ollie joined in on the fun and started barking too.
That’s when my brain rebooted, and I was finally able to react. Maddie’s bark jarred the coyote out of his surprise too – and he quickly distanced himself from us but didn’t run away completely.
He stared at us with curiosity while the dogs barked, and I started clapping my hands loudly and making myself big. I scooped up Ollie and began walking us back to the house while keeping a close eye on the coyote to make sure he kept his distance.
When we got back inside, it took me a couple hours to finally get to sleep. I kept thinking about how I froze and couldn’t remember what to do for a long moment. It was probably only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. It was humbling.
The experience reminded me that when I’m talking about wildlife safety with the community, I shouldn’t be flippant or minimize how scary these kinds of encounters can be.
I’ve always been an advocate for animals. It’s always my first instinct to come to their defense — and I don’t think that will ever change. But I do believe this experience will make me a little more compassionate and understanding of people’s fears when it comes to them.
In this instance, while it did take me a moment to remember my training, it did come back to me, and I did what I needed to do to protect me and my pets. Knowledge is power, even when it takes a second to remember it.
This is why we regularly host presentations and workshops on how to peacefully coexist with wildlife: So that you can react wisely when you encounter animals who are just as afraid of you, and you are of them.
In fact, we’re hosting our next Coyote Safety Workshop from noon to 1 p.m., Wednesday, April 22 as a webinar you can experience in the comfort of your own home.
We’ll talk about all things coyotes, iincluding their biology, behaviors, tendencies, and how to protect yourself and your furry loved ones. I hope you’ll check it out.
In the meantime, here are some quick tips for you to consider when encountering a coyote to ensure your safety and remind coyotes to be very wary of humans:
- Make the coyote feel uncomfortable.
- Be aggressive. Yell or spray a hose at the coyote. Make loud noises or shake a can of pennies to scare the coyote away. Throw tennis balls.
- Make yourself appear large and back away slowly.
- Never turn your back or run away.
- Walk your dog on a leash. You can lower your chance of encountering coyotes on your dog walks by avoiding walking your dog at dawn or dusk.
- Make safety your first priority. In case of emergency, call 911.
We also have a list of a variety of safe, humane ways to help peacefully coexist with wildlife on our website at pasadenahumane.org/wildlife. If you need additional help, please contact our Wildlife Department at 626.792.7151 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.