Adventures from Back of Beyond

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


"Come quick with the binoculars!"

When Sharon says that, I know to come a'runnin. She's spotted something good.

Sure enough, there off a couple of hundred yards, out in the forest, was a large beautiful coyote. Just sitting and watching.

Our dog Happy was barking and cautiously approaching, doing her job as a watchdog, and the coyote just sat and watched, holding his ground and biding his time. Soon, within a minute or so, the coyote was joined by a second big one, also with a healthy long winter coat.

This was all very unusual, since it was in broad daylight. I figured we might be looking at the alpha male and alpha female from one of the many coyote packs that live around here.

Something similar had happened before, about 12 years ago, just after we'd moved out to the forestlands of Back of Beyond.

It was early one morning, and again it was the ever-alert Sharon who first spotted it. She shouted "Oh my God come take a look at this!", and I knew it was something big.

Outside, only about 50 feet away from our house was a large coyote, slowly stalking toward our female lab, Roxie. She was barking her head off, trying to hold her ground, as the big coyote steadily approached.

We now know what coyotes do to domesticated animals around here. Both to small dogs and cats of all kinds. They are an easy snack. We often see signs posted for missing dogs or cats around here. The dogs are always a small breed. Cats have basically no chance. Sad when the owners don't know any better, but the coyotes around here are just too smart, too wily, and know how to hunt together.

As the coyote steadily approached Roxie I got alarmed. I needed to do something, and wanted to try and scare it off for good. So in one sudden spurt, I opened the back door and jumped atop a small stoop on the porch, waving my arms wildly and shouted "get outta here" at the top of my lungs.

It scared the crap out of the coyote. Off it ran, with Roxie immediately in hot pursuit. As the coyote took off, I spotted what I didn't see at first -- a second coyote, also running. These two would've taken out our female for sure if I hadn't intervened. I figured these were the alpha male and female of the pack, bold enough to hunt in broad daylight.

So we now were in a similar situation, with the big coyote moving slowly toward Happy. I noticed his lips curl upward, baring his fangs in a wild animal snarl. Not a friendly gesture.

This time I was too far away to make much of an impact by jumping and shouting, so I figured it was time to deploy Billy. He'd take care of business.

Billy is our big male lab. Roxie's son. He's massive, over 90 pounds. Born and raised right here in this house. Lived here every day of his whole life, except for the two nights he spent in jail.

Billy likes to cruise, and so we normally keep him inside during daylight hours. He seems to stay put once it gets dark. But twice he's been picked up by the dog catcher, and twice I've had to bail him out from the pound.

Billy is absolutely fearless around here. In his mind he knows he's the top dog, no doubt about it. I don't think he can even conceive of himself as anything else. He's a product of a loving family, had his mother around for the first 10 years of his life to nurture and protect him. Never been confined to a fenced yard. Has enjoyed at least two walks a day, every day, for his entire life.

He displays an easy, loose confidence, an assuredness of his rightful place at the very top of the food chain out here. Nothing scares him.

Even though he's top dog in his mind, he's also exceptionally good natured. Got all the normal qualities of a lab -- patient, amazingly patient. He can wait hours practically motionless if he knows he's going on a walk. We can see why labs are chosen as seeing-eye dogs. Loyal. Friendly. But also stubborn, incredibly stubborn if he wants to be, though as he's aged it's less of an issue.

Once, while walking in the forest several years ago, I'm fairly certain he cornered a mountain lion. I only saw a glimpse of it, a large tawny-colored animal with a long tail, fleeing rapidly as Billy gave chase.

He and his mother would commonly wreak havoc on the coyote packs around here. If a pack happened to pass too closely at night, we'd hear both dogs go off huffing and puffing around the forest rapidly, fearlessly chasing off whatever they could find. I'm fairly certain his mom, Roxie, taught him how to do this. She was a great hunter as well. We couldn't see them chasing coyotes, but we could hear them. They worked well together, having great fun doing it, no doubt.

What a great life for a dog.

Anyway, this big coyote was stalking our new dog Happy.

We found Happy on Craigslist. I sometimes call her "Ava", short for Avatar, because she's like that super-athletic 10-foot tall race that lives on Pandora in the movie. She just towers over Billy, but probably weighs 20 pounds less. Even though she's taller and much younger, Billy knows he's still top dog in the family.

Billy's getting older now, and walks with a noticeable limp if the weather's cold, at least until he gets warmed up. I called him over, fully confident of what he'd do next.

Sure enough, when I let him out he immediately recognized what was happening. I don't know if it was by sight or smell or the kinds of barks coming from Happy, but he sauntered over directly toward the coyotes with no hesitation whatsoever. He didn't run, just took a supremely confident steady pace that apparently communicated effectively to the coyotes.

The big male coyote spotted Billy first. Watching for just a moment, he figured it was time to skedaddle. This big boy may have been chased more than once by Billy and remembered. Off he went, closely followed by the alpha female, and then we saw Happy barking and chasing close behind as they ran.

There's no way those coyotes could outrun superdog Happy with her long legs, but as they crested over a hill I was sure Happy wouldn't get too close for comfort. Billy only got out far enough to sniff around and pee on some spots where he could smell them.

Soon, within a few minutes, all dogs were back safely. Until the next fun encounter.