Longform

ASK MY CAT ABOUT COYOTE BREATH

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Figuring we would have to euthanize our cat, my daughter Tina and I loaded Duke into a portable kennel and drove off to an emergency animal clinic. I remembered to take a credit card with me.

Duke rejected first aid, even after having suffered a coyote attack. In fact, he did a better job of fighting off the veterinarian at the emergency animal clinic than he had the coyote. In order to protect the doctors, a technician plopped our bloody kitty into a rectangular, glass-aquariumlike gismo called an anesthetic chamber.

We carted Duke to two more vets that day. After the emergency vet, we visited our regular vet, who sent us to a specialist. Whichever doctor happened to be attending Duke simply fed a tube of anesthetic gas into his chamber, which cost at least $75, and began another round of expensive treatment. Duke eventually wound up in the hands of a bone specialist named Chris Visser, who wired Duke's shattered jaw and gave him a root canal.

Dr. Visser was under the impression that Duke had been run over, until I pointed out the gray coyote fur wedged between the cat's claws.

Dr. Visser and the other vets had reason to suspect something other than a coyote had attacked Duke. "I don't get to treat many cats that tangle with coyotes," the emergency vet had said earlier in the day. "Usually, there's nothing left."

It ended up costing me $700 to provide the veterinarians with the unique experience of triaging a cat that had been attacked by a coyote.

It wasn't until I got home, exhausted and late for work and ready for a hot shower, that I realized that throughout the entire duration of Duke's trauma treatment, I had been wearing a tee shirt that was inside out.

Neither I nor my daughter Tina was the least bit angry with the coyote.
It was, after all, just being a coyote.
I still enjoy hearing my coyote neighbors yip-howling late at night, competing with the roar of kids racing their Camaros through the intersection of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road, police-car sirens and the occasional burglar alarm. The coyote songs add a Southwestern aesthetic to urban living, and remind me of my childhood on the ranch in northern Arizona.

But to some city dwellers, the wails of the wild dogs bring terror.
Or curiosity.
In the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials receive from two to five telephone calls each week from residents curious about urban coyotes. The residents want to know if coyotes eat children. They want to know if coyotes carry dread diseases. They want to know if coyotes make good pets. They want to know if coyotes live in the city because man has crowded them out of their natural environment.

The department gets so many calls that it recently published a pamphlet titled "The Urban Coyote," which it mailed to me. The pamphlet shows how a coyote print differs from a cat print, but is similar to a dog print. It instructs residents not to feed coyotes and to keep pets indoors at night. It also says coyotes are permanent residents of Arizona cities.

What Game and Fish biologists explain over and over to people like my neighbors is that coyotes have expanded their range as man has expanded his. While they were animals who mostly lived in the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico 100 years ago, coyotes now prosper from Costa Rica to Alaska and from New York to California. They have even been sighted in Maine.

Arizona has a particularly healthy population of wild dogs. However, taking a precise census of Arizona coyotes is impossible, because the creatures don't stay in one place long enough to be counted. State biologists estimate that at least 200,000 coyotes live in Arizona--hundreds are urban residents who live in Phoenix and Tucson.

Their numbers in the cities are growing, because there is practically unlimited food and water in Phoenix and Tucson, according to Judy Loven, district supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control. "The long-term trend is that there is an unlimited potential for urban-coyote populations," she tells me in a worried voice. Each year, she says, her agency hears of more and more coyote sightings in Phoenix and Tucson, as well as increased complaints of coyotes killing pets. "We're afraid that's a step away from either a child or a person being bitten or attacked," she tells me.

In Phoenix, they like the city's fringes best.
Mostly, they hang out in suburbs like Paradise Valley and Pinnacle Peak Village and Sun City, near golf courses and drainage ditches and near suburbanites who regularly feed them.

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Terry Greene