Five tiny kittens frantically cried for their mother. Hungry and scared, they’d been waiting in a cold, dark world because, at only about two-weeks-old, their eyes were just opening. Other residents of the little farmstead where they’d been born spent that mid-autumn morning unaware of the growing drama taking place between hay bales stacked high in the metal barn.
The farm’s owner entered the building amid eager “Where’s my breakfast?” demands from horses, alpacas, turkeys, clucking chickens, and scurrying dogs. The excited din at first obscured the little felines’ high-pitched pleas. But once things settled down and the woman headed to check on the kittens she’d discovered days earlier, she realized something was very wrong.
Fast forward to many hours later: the mother cat had not returned and bottle-feeding had begun. Fast forward to a few days later: keeping up with the pace of bottle-feeding had become a near impossibility. Lady, a very old farm dog, had unexpectedly given birth to a single—and huge— pup a couple of weeks earlier. She had more than enough milk for him. Would she accept five foster kittens? Yes, she did! So, other than mourning Honey Cat’s likely dismal fate, all went well.
That was November 2005 and one of those five tiny kittens, Sunny (aka Sunny Buns, Sun Buns, Miss Buns, Bunsie, etc.) is my 25+ pound orange tabby. She’s also a huge personality who loves humans, and neighboring dogs— sometimes a little too much. Over the years, however, the mystery of her mama cat’s demise has gone unsolved. But there’s always been a #1 Suspect: Coyote!
The property largely remains now what it was then. A less than 20-acre small farm parcel off the I-25 Frontage Road near Prospect Road in Fort Collins, it’s surrounded to the east and southeast by Timnath, to the north by businesses, and by frenetic traffic just to the west. Rural? Semi-commercial? Suburban? Increasingly urban? Coyotes simply don’t notice nor care.
Lance Carpenter, a Denver-area Wildlife Biologist, has lengthy personal experience with those feral canines he calls generalists. The term means they tolerate, survive and thrive in all environments as well as consume a variety of foods and pretty much any species smaller (or slower) than they. Other generalists include raccoons and foxes, both of which also take up residence wherever they can eke out a living.
While burgeoning human populations continue to press many native species to the point of extinction, generalists simply adapt… or, thanks to leftovers in trash cans or the remains of side-of-the-road traffic victims, their numbers actually expand.
Coyotes, like other canines, can live as long as 15 years. Litters of 5-6 pups are average and adults weigh 20-25 pounds. They compete with foxes so, advised Carpenter when one species’ numbers increase the other’s usually decreases. Although curious, they are timid of humans and usually avoid contact.
Carpenter noted that, while remaining leery of our species, a hungry browser is irresistibly tempted by our pets. While walking his own dog near Lakewood, he frequently observes a distant coyote or two along the daily route. However, his pet always remains on-leash, and never on one of those long retractable ones. (There are horror stories of 30-foot leashes snapping back without a tiny dog attached!)
Along the Front Range, coyotes are found even in urban neighborhoods. Mice, rabbits, and voles are good food sources; those tinier species thrive on birdseed, berries, and garbage. Landscaped parks and residential yards offer adequate shelter and water sources. And, while a mouse provides a welcome snack, a cat or small dog makes a nice meal.
Never leave pets unsupervised, particularly at dawn and dusk. Avoid leaving unattended pets or their food/water outside. When out walking, pick up and carry small dogs if a coyote approaches. Avoid potential den sites and thick vegetation.
As do domesticated canines, coyotes defend their territory and young. Never allow your dog to interact or play with a coyote. Keep pets current on vaccinations. Certainly, never feed a coyote! As do dogs, they’ll come to associate people with food, thereby causing aggression. It’s illegal to feed or intentionally attract coyotes in most Colorado urban areas.
Contrarily, should a coyote approach you or your children, become the aggressor. Be big, loud and authoritative. Clap, shout, stomp your feet, wave your arms, throw an object at the animal. Don’t turn your back on it or run. Face it and back away slowly. Other deterrents might include air horns, repellant sprays, vinegar in a water pistol, rocks.
There was a big rabbit den (coyote candy shop) near the metal barn where Honey Cat had hidden her baby kittens all those years ago. Plus, a particular coyote had been spotted ‘hanging around’ the barnyard off and on for weeks. In fact, elderly Lady surprisingly turned up pregnant during its numerous unwanted visits. Could it be? There are such hybrids as coy-dogs. But no, little Rascal proved to be a dead ringer for the young male farm dog. And, whether death by coyote or some other cause, poor Honey lost her life.
Colorado is blessed with an abundance of wildlife species to be protected and enjoyed. Coyotes aren’t inherently dangerous to humans or our pets as long as we know and respect everyone’s place, including ours, in the grand scheme of things.
For additional information about coyotes, call Colorado Parks & Wildlife at 303-291-7227, or visit them online at www.cpw.state.co.us .