Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Sad and Cautionary Tale

I was crouched down and bending over, pulling some overgrown weeds the other day. I had my back to these woods, when it occurred to me that I might not really be all that safe. It was an interesting realization. I'm only 5'2" and weigh 107 pounds. I'm pretty sure that makes me smaller than a full-grown ewe. I could easily be prey for something, couldn't I? I turned and faced the woods and kept on weeding.
Not Moose, but a lookalike
The reason that thought crossed my mind: A sad and terrible thing happened here over Memorial Weekend when Roger and I were over at the coast. Our neighbor's dog was killed by a coyote. Moose was a small dog, probably a Bichon Frise. He was the cutest little squiggly exuberant thing, the kind of dog that hops on your lap when you're sitting on the couch, or pees in excitement because he's happy to see you. His family doesn't live full time in the cabin up the hill from us, but they come often enough that we've gotten to know them pretty well and consider them dear friends. When they do arrive, like for long holiday weekends, Moose always comes to our door to announce their arrival. He was just that kind of dog, delighted to be out in the country, running around and sniffing everything in sight.

I had emailed photos of the bobcats and coyotes to Moose's parents (M & C). All the pics were taken at the base of their driveway. When we hear the coyotes, they are often up around that side of the property. This is coyote country. The last email I sent M about coyotes, he wrote: That coyote makes me a bit nervous for Moose. He'd make a handy little treat for a den of new pups.

How horribly and eerily prescient that comment turned out to be.

When M & C headed out to take a walk on the Saturday of the long weekend, they took Moose. M suggested that they put him on a leash. C, who doted on that pup sun up to sun down, thought it would be okay to let him run up ahead and enjoy that little taste of freedom that he gets in the country. He'd taken this walk and made these rounds many many times over the years. Why should this time be any different?

Except that it was.

Moose ran out of sight, and M & C never saw or heard him again.

They looked for him for two days. They knocked on our door, found my twin brother and sister-in-law housesitting for us, asked if they had seen a small white dog. The answer was no. They knocked on all the neighbors' doors. No one had seen or heard anything. It's an interesting thing in retrospect to take solace in the fact that no one heard anything. That's good. It means that Moose was killed very quickly. Not a sound was made.

On Monday, M spotted Moose's body in a place he had already looked. Maybe the pups had dragged it out from wherever they had been eating him. So, M took him and buried under a tree in the yard. There are flowers and stones marking his grave. Last weekend, other visiting relatives told us that in all the 48 years the family has had this cabin in the hills, this is the saddest thing that's ever happened there.

So, I was bending over, crouched down pulling weeds when I suddenly thought of Moose, and it occurred to me that it wouldn't take much to kill me. A hungry pair of coyotes with pups to feed could do it pretty fast. It's a dog eat dog world, some say, and damn if that's not the truth.
On a related note: We've been seeing this momma skunk out during the day, and with her kits at sunset. Everyone says that a skunk out during the day is a sign of rabies. Well, it's also a sign of an overworked momma who has to protect her den at night from the very same predators that killed Moose. She's doing her job, and she's doing it well. We're glad to see her being smart. Her kits are adorable.

It's late spring. Things are blooming. Pups are hungry. Don't be afraid, but be alert, everyone.


  1. I am so sorry about Moose, and I bet they are really sorry that they didn't leash him.

  2. I feel for Moose and his family.Losing a dog is so painful. More painful in this case.
    YOU be alert out there!

  3. Oooh what a sad story. We had that happen around here several years ago, and I live in the suburbs of KC. I guess you just have to keep a constant watch on our fur babies.

  4. That's very sad about little Moose. We worry about precisely the same issues so the cats, especially little Willow, don't go out except on the porch with me. A couple years ago several cats disappeared in very short order here on the mountain. I like your mama skunk.

  5. Poor Moose. You are in wild country, and domestic animals need our vigilance and protection.

    Yeah, I bet some coyotes could take you down, you itty bitty thing. Were you inside the fence or out? At least don't wear headphones when you're out there - stay alert, like you say.

  6. Sad about Moose. Pretty much what you said is what I say about living out-- stay alert and watchful. Never take nature for granted or think it's like a cartoon world. It can turn vicious fast and it's not out of meanness-- just reality and survival.

  7. very sad; i am so sorry for the family. :( glad you remain vigilant. reminds me of how shocking it was last summer when i was driving in a rather metropolitan neighborhood of bellevue, WA and saw a coyote going from house to house, searching backyards and moving on to the next house. i drove ahead quickly and began warning children playing in their yards and families whose cats were enjoying a sunny afternoon. there are many greenbelts in these neighborhoods; wild animals come out at will. i see coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and deer; neighbors have seen black bears within a few blocks of us on several occasions. mountain lions roam nearby in a wild elevated area where a park ranger has posted signs to increase awareness. stay safe!

  8. I've had much the same concern around here - coyotes are new-ish around here, but are usually nocturnal. They also tend to hunt singularly, but socialize in groups. We hear them late at night at higher elevations (lol, doesn't mean the same thing around here!). Still, nothing to say that those usually separate impulses can't get mixed up. There has also been stuff about interbreeding with wolves, which might produce hybrids more aggressive for you than for us, who have had no wolves for many decades.

    As for humans, take, for instance, the Canadian folk singer Taylor Mitchell, killed by coyotes fall 2009 in a national park in Nova Scotia. Not exactly what you'd expect, but repeated exposure to hikers presumably made the coyotes bold. Still, she was the only known adult to be killed by coyotes.

    Agree with Taradharma - don't wear your buds - listen to what's going on around you. Carry a big stick - use it as a walking stick - I do. You have other predators that we don't have - bears and mountain lions, for instance.

  9. My heart is so broken for these folks losing beautiful Moose. And they will spend the rest of their lives beating themselves up for not having leashed him.

    Please, everyone, if you walk with your dog in the woods, if your dog is not rock-solid reliable about staying at your side no matter what, PLEASE keep him/her leashed.

    Robin, petite as you are, I don't think coyotes would bother you. Mountain lions, yes. The other thing to remember about wildlife is that they generally want to avoid fights. Injury = death to wild animals, so it is natural for them to avoid confrontations that can lead to injury. That's why it is an effective defense against a black bear to stand on a rock or stump, put your hands up over your head and yell--you become bigger and therefore more risky for them to attack.

  10. Robin, I would feel really good if you threw a can of some non-permanent damage pepper spray in your pocket.

    Poor Moose...that makes me really sad. :(

  11. What a sad, sad lesson to learn. You certainly did all you could by warning them of the danger. Too bad all around that they let the adorable little Moose run off lead in such an area.

  12. Definitely important to remain alert when you are in country where rhere are predators present. Also good to keep dogs leashed, if for no other reason than to keep them from wandering off. I'm sorry that your friends have lost their little dog to coyote.

  13. How absolutely awful about that adorable dog Moose. The horror is his owners having to live with the "should a dones."
    My, you are a tiny thing. Probably wouldn't hurt to carry pepper spray.

  14. On a lighter note, it reminds me of The Gods Must Be Crazy Two .. the little boy is taught to raise as long a stick as he can find over his head to fool the hyaenas. SO .. when Brinn and I came across a mountain lion on our hike across from my house, we raised our walking sticks way above our heads and ran like lightening (although we have read the UCSC site about what to do when you come across a mountain lion, that clearly states not to run).

  15. AND .. very, very sad to lose Moose.


  16. When we lived further out in Sonoma County. Our Cocker, Harry, wouldn't go out alone because of coyotes. Plus, he was afraid of owls as a pup and never changed his mind about them as he grew. He also used to issue a special bark/growl when rattlers were around.

  17. I live in a rural community on an island, and we were coyote free until about 30 years ago when one was spotted crossing the runway on base. THey took hold and have now spread all up and down the island, and walk behind my 6' fence every so often. I will not let my cats out nor will I let my dog off leash! learned that lesson the hard way!

  18. I have had the misconception about skunks out in the daytime as being sick or rabid. You are right about that being a myth.

    That said, we have a rabies problem with skunks in our county. I am cautious when I see one in the daytime.

  19. So sad about that little dog. Even here in mid-city, we worry about coyotes. I see them quite often on our street. Given the urban environment, they are used to seeing people and are extraordinarily bold. When I go out with George, I keep him firmly on the leash and even so I remain on my guard at night and early morning: there are stories around here of coyotes attacking small dogs even when they're on the leash. We humans have encroached so far on their territory that they are forced, in turn, to encroach on (what we think is) ours! Thanks for the heart-breaking reminder.

  20. Poor Moose and poor owners, they must be devestated. A cautionary tale for us all. Although I live in england so no major predators, but those foxes can be badass, one tried to drag off my neighbours little yorkshire terrier, shame.

    ps how do I subscribe to your posts? xxx