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By Sally Griffin

A couple months ago, we were about half a mile from our house on our way to dinner when a strange dog ran in front of us. After we slammed on the brakes and barely missed him, Old Man Coyote turned and grinned at us. He then loped along, perfectly content to follow our car down the road. 

We were used to coyotes when we lived in the mountains, but this was the first we have seen since we moved back to the suburbs of Denver. Since then, we have seen a coyote running past our house on the street and, later, down by the creek that is near our house. We live in an area with lots of forest critters so it seems inevitable that coyotes and other wild animals would visit our area. This got me thinking and I thought it would be interesting to write a series of articles about these wild animals and how they visit our lives in our suburban area.

Coyotes were an interesting topic for the first article, because they have shown a great penchant for living in the city. According to the book, “Coyote America,” by Dan Flores, coyotes are very adaptable and have taken quite well to city life. In fact, the largest single band of coyotes have lived comfortably in downtown Los Angeles for some years. A couple years ago, a pair of coyotes snuck into Soldier Field in Chicago and proceeded to have litter of pups. Maintenance staff have seen them and their offspring, but have been unable, so far, to catch them. Which means coyotes may be there to stay. 

“In twenty-first-century America, close encounters with coyotes have now become the country’s most common large-wildlife experience,” according to Flores. “Their colonization of our cities, from the smallest burgs to biggest, loudest, most frenetic of metropolises, has become the wildlife story of our time.” 

I guess it is no surprise that coyotes are hanging out in our area.

However, coyotes can be useful. Their favorite meals are small rodents like mice. They will even eat big rodents like rats and, if they can catch them, prairie dogs. In this sense, they do us a service by keeping down the rodent population. In fact, they have replaced wild dogs that used to hunt rodents in our cities. And, except for a rare pack in San Diego, coyotes don’t usually have or transmit rabies like feral dogs can. Although they have a reputation as surviving on small pets, science indicates that pets provide only about 1 to 2 percent of the average coyote diet. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t kill cats if they think they are predators operating in their area. In other words, they don’t want cats eating their mice.

According to Stewart Breck, a biologist with the National Wildlife Research Center, coyotes didn’t really have much presence in Denver until the 1980s. But, as of 2014, there were 112 coyote packs in the Denver metro area with a summer population of 1,004 animals. A survey showed that 90 percent of Denver residents had seen a coyote in their area. While shyer coyotes may survive in rural settings, it is the bolder, more novelty-seeking wild coyotes that find the large number of humans and sensory overload exciting. They are the first to try new things and take risks and they are probably transferring those urban cultural norms to their offspring. In other words, Denver has smart coyotes.

Coyotes do have a sense of play. I remember going to a meeting in Boulder a couple years ago and parking in a residential area just a few blocks from downtown. It had snowed the night before and a resident was out cleaning the snow off his car. As I walked past, a yellow streak came around the corner and jumped on top of the car and slid through the snow and down the windshield. The coyote landed on all four feet and tore off down the street and around the corner. I asked, “Is he helping you?” The man responded, “ Yea, for the second time!” Just then, we saw the yellow streak coming back around the corner and heading straight for the car. Make that three times!

It is hard to believe that we share our area with a small, wolf-like predator. But, as I learned from living in the mountains, coyotes are not that hard to live with, provided you keep them wild and at least a little nervous around you. 

According to Flores, the prime directive about coyotes is straight-forward: Do not feed them! To avoid the most common human conflict with coyotes, don’t let your cats or small dogs outside at night. Don’t leave infants or small children unwatched outside. Whatever you do, don’t let a street-wise coyote bluff you. 

Everyone in north Jeffco can help both people and coyotes by taking action to re-instill in them a healthy and natural fear of people. If your dog or your jogging or biking excites an unusual or bold reaction from a coyote, establish your dominance. If a coyote doesn’t retreat from you or acts in any way aggressive, stand tall, raise your hands over your head to underscore the fact that you are a lot bigger than he is, and shout to show you are also aggressive. If you have a good throwing arm, pick up a couple of rocks and throw your best fastball. Give the coyote every indication that you are fully prepared to be dangerous. In other words, keep town-wise coyotes thinking that people can still be dangerous, or, at least, too weird to trust. 

If You Encounter a Coyote:

• Remain calm. Don’t turn your back or run from one.

• Be really, really loud. Yell and clap your hands.

• Wave your arms to look bigger. (Probably, not at the same time you are clapping them.)

• Keep your pet on a six-foot leash when walking.

• Pick up children and small pets, so there is no temptation for the coyote to go after them.

• If the coyote keeps approaching, throw rocks and sticks.