ASK MY CAT ABOUT COYOTE BREATH

What Bob and Helen do is set out dry dog food "snacks" for nine coyotes who regularly visit them at mealtime.

"We wanted to see them up closer," Bob tells me, "so we began to put out goodies. We just give them enough to come in, so we can see them better. We don't want to tame them, or feed them by hand or replace their food supply. We are not providing for their needs. They still have to hunt."
Bob knows about these things, because he worked for the U.S. Forest Service before he retired.

Each day, Bob writes in a journal exactly how many coyotes come to "snack" and at what time.

"These are our boys," Bob Burkholder tells me. Pinnacle Peak Village-area residents Fran and Russ Winter also find nothing wrong with leaving out a few snacks for the wild dogs.

"I can't see where they would become dangerous," says Fran Winter. "When they come up to eat, they take off if I come near."
All of them, that is, except the coyote the Winters called "Tri."
It was a three-legged coyote that came around for four years, and eventually ate out of Fran's hand.

The Winters became attached to Tri. So when he was attacked by wild javelinas last New Year's Eve, the Winters alerted Game and Fish, which transported the animal to the department's Adobe Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, a pet hospital for wild animals. Tri died at the center, and the Winters carried his body home, burying him in their front yard.

Do not tell Fran Winter that it is wrong to feed a coyote.

Canis latrans, the coyote, has lived on the land that is now Arizona for thousands of years. The creature thrived in the open spaces of the Arizona Sonoran Desert long before the arrival of the area's first residents. It was always a remarkably adaptable creature, feeding on desert berries and fruits as well as rodents, insects, birds and reptiles.

When people moved into the Arizona deserts, the coyote added another staple to its diet--human garbage. The animals hovered near early Native American communities, on the lookout for leftovers.

Today, coyotes are the subject of significant cultural schizophrenia. On the one hand, we buy happy, howling-coyote tee shirts and happy, howling-coyote woodcarvings in airport gift shops to remind us of Southwestern vacations. But if we walk out of the gift shop and spy a particularly unsightly human, we might let it slip that the person is "coyote ugly."

Mexicano-Chicano people in the Southwest say that a "coyote" is the lowest-of-the-low fellow who, for an exorbitant sum, will smuggle poor people from Central America and Mexico into the United States.

Leonardo Felix, a professor of economics at the University of Sonora in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, says that in his country, any shady character out for a quick buck is a "coyote." Like a poker player. Or a financier.

Wayne Juste, a member of the Pima tribe, has told me he defines "coyote" as a "real politician and a hustler--someone who bends the truth a little."

But Juste will be the first to point out that the coyote had many different characterizations in ancient Native American stories.

For hundreds of years, the Navajo people told coyote stories to their children on long winter nights. University of Nebraska Press published an English translation of Curly T¢ Aheedl¡inii's version of Navajo Coyote Tales in 1984.

In each story, Coyote has a different persona. He is a filthy, lying coward, or a trickster and a thief, or a hero or a god. Each story has a moral for children: Do not be greedy like Coyote; do not trick people, like Coyote; do not steal like Coyote; be brave like Coyote; be good like Coyote; be wise and honest like Coyote.

For centuries the Pima people and their cousins, the Tohono O'odham, farmed and hunted on land that is now beneath the cities of Phoenix and Tucson. They, too, told Coyote stories around the fire.

The legends were translated and collected by University of Arizona scholars in 1973.

Again, Coyote is either brave and honest and wise, or a trickster and a con artist who lets his greed cloud his thinking and is outsmarted by other animals. In one story, greedy Coyote is tricked by Quail into eating the roasted fat of his own tail.

Other legends tell how Coyote brought two food staples, the saguaro fruit and the mesquite bean, to the Pima and Tohono O'odham peoples. "Coyote is good for something," the storyteller would say around the fire. One Tohono O'odham legend explains how these early residents of the desert and Coyote lived together. "The people had good homes and planted and gathered various kinds of food and stored and ate them to live. But Coyote didn't have a home anywhere. He just wandered around and appointed himself chief of everything, but usually almost got himself killed. Still, people didn't criticize him, but were just happy with him and kept calling him, 'Uncle, Uncle.'"

This was not a view shared by Anglo settlers who moved into the Valley in the 1800s.

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