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Modern Day Witch-hunt

Posted on 24 February 2011 by Dawn Keller

A member of the public reported that a dog was adrift on a piece of ice on Lake Michigan off of Lake Shore Drive and Fullerton. A canine, yes, but of a different sort. When the Chicago Fire Department arrived on their rescue boat, they realized it was a coyote – not a domestic dog.

With the help of a Chicago Animal Care and Control officer, Chicago Fire Department rescuers attempted to secure the coyote, but she panicked and jumped into the frigid waters. She climbed her way back up on the ice floe and the Fire Department rescue boat made another attempt. This time, they pulled the ice-covered canine into the rescue boat.

By now, the coyote's rescue had the rapt attention of the media. A photographer beautifully captured this ice-covered, exhausted and frightened coyote shortly after she was placed in a Chicago Animal Care and Control vehicle. Her fur was covered in icicles, her rear paws were almost encased in ice.

The coyote, dubbed Holly for the upcoming holidays a.k.a. Gilligan for being adrift at sea, was transferred to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation where her rehabilitation began.

Upon admission, Holly was unable to place any weight on her rear paws and they curled under her in pain – a result of frostbite. Now the work began to minimize any permanent damage in an attempt to secure her eventual freedom.

Holly was lucky and incurred no limb necrosis and no significant tissue necrosis. After a couple of months, she was ready to be released to the wild.

Upon her release, Holly left her transport carrier like she was shot out of a bullet – never looking back. We wished her good luck for a long and safe life.

The video of Holly’s release clearly shows how badly she wanted to get away from her human caregivers. We at Flint Creek Wildlife rehabilitate quite a few coyotes and I will tell you that, without exception, they have always been far more afraid of us than we could ever be of them. I have personally found coyotes to be amazing animals. They are smart, they are resourceful, and they hide in the corner of a cage and avert my gaze hoping that I don’t come near them. Never in my experience with coyotes have I found them to be aggressive, vicious of fearless.

So why is this species so misunderstood? Why do we get calls from people afraid that coyotes will attack them or their children? Why do towns and villages of presumably intelligent people act based on fear and ignorance and advocate the persecution of their perceived canine enemies instead of gathering and acting on facts and, in doing so, why do we fail to make fact-based decisions and exemplify compassion in a way that is reminiscent of McCarthyism or witch-hunts?

Holly’s story tugged at the heartstrings of many people - both in the Chicago area as well as nationally. Her rescue was a great example of human capacity for compassion. But despite her heroic rescue and the media surrounding both her rescue and release, just days after her release we were faced with another coyote witch-hunt in which someone alleged, devoid of basis in fact, that a coyote was vicious, thus resulting in an organized effort to contain it. Fortunately, cooler and more erudite heads prevailed and the coyote, after hours of being tracked, was finally left alone to go back to its life.

So, as rehabilitators and educators, we must continue to spread the word that coyotes can and should be allowed to live peaceably among us.

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