Coyote Dance

The coyotes advanced and retreated, one posturing, one tentative, dancing the change in balance of living in the same space. It is spring, and the younger has just reached maturity. Two male coyotes, both neutered, both “imprinted” – unable to be released into the wild because well-meaning (or not) humans tried to raise them.

The coyotes came to the nature center in leapfrog sequence. This older one came as younger sidekick to an older male. Then it was his turn to be the older male to this younger companion. The stories each of them told me had similarities – being taken from the den as a pup, missing their moms and littermates, being moved from place to place and not being accepted even by others of their own kind. Now they’re full grown, about 25 pounds, quick and lean with long, slender legs.

Sage, a little larger and three years senior, holds one of his triangular red-gold ears lower than the other. He was happy to have a companion, though he said, “I’m in charge.” When he came to Sulphur Creek Nature Center,* he said, “There was another of my kind here and we got along okay. He was older. It was good to have some company. He said I was too old to learn the lessons of the wild, but he did teach me some things. Then he died and Jazz came. We get along okay, though not the same as with the other. It’s better than no company though. I keep trying, I guess we’re friends.”

Jazz, the younger coyote, said that when he came here, “Sage was here. We get along okay. I would like to be out with my kind, out of these fences. I would like to mate and help raise cubs. I was taken from my family and never had a chance to have my own. This makes me sad and a little afraid. What will become of me, of us? It is spring. I feel the need to mate running in my veins.”

Balance in a relationship shifts and changes. As Jazz approached sexual maturity he, like all teenagers, pushed the boundaries and challenged the older Sage. He stole enrichment toys and food, then moved to more assertive tactics. A couple of puncture wounds sent Sage to the vet. The younger Jazz said he didn’t mean to hurt him, “I just wanted to correct him, he was being pushy.”

After treatment with antibiotics, Sage admitted he felt better, but really didn’t like going to the vet. Both of the coyotes lingered at the front of their enclosure with me that day. Their lean bodies were relaxed and their bushy tails hung easily, showing a single dark spot where the tawny gold fur shades to gray. No posturing or hostility, just the soul of them being there.

The challenging later escalated to confrontation when Jazz pushed too far and Sage retaliated, sending both to the vet. Separation followed. The dance involved their caretakers, too. One coyote needed to be secured in a smaller inner den while the other had free run of the outer enclosure. Then the switch, and the other was sequestered in his den while the formerly imprisoned coyote had access to the larger space. Days on, days off … days in, days out.

On my shift, it was Jazz who was closed up in the den area. He regarded me with amber eyes that I sometimes feel look through me rather than at me. I slipped his food under the locked gate in a pie tin, as to a prisoner. He said, “I don’t understand. I couldn’t help myself.” I could feel his confusion, and communicated to him that it was part of the process of growth. His instincts are natural for a bachelor coyote in the wild. If he had not been taken by humans as a pup, he would be seeking a mate rather than helping educate people about his kind.

I hope they can work it out, although I know one has to be dominant. Sage was shaken and subdued that day. “I liked things the way they were,” he said.

When the course of antibiotics for their lacerations was complete, it was time for reintroduction. On my next shift I was privileged to be the one to open the gates to let both coyotes into the large outer enclosure.

First, I offered Reiki to both coyotes. Reiki for animals is offered by creating a bubble of healing Reiki energy which the animal can move into and out of freely. Before when I have offered it, the younger coyote was enthusiastic and the older disdainful. This time, it was the younger who was disdainful and the older who welcomed it. I mentally recited the mantras and asked to be a clear channel for whatever healing these coyotes needed at this time. When the energy flow subsided, I opened the gates.

The younger Jazz postured. Raised hackles accentuated the subtle stripes of gray and cream on his back. He uttered a low Whuf! Whuf! He urinated in front of Sage’s open gate and scratched dirt into the opening. Sage peeked out, then turned back into his den. The dance, advance and retreat, repeated as I stood watchful outside the enclosure, holding the energetic space and feeling the flowing and ebbing of waves of Reiki energy. When the older coyote stuck his long, pointed muzzle and head out of the opening, black nose tentatively sniffing, the younger trotted back. Whuf! Whuf! Sage retreated again.

Then Sage stood in his doorway, tail wagging. I have worked with these coyotes for three years, and had never seen Sage wag his tail before. The younger Jazz began to alternate the Whuf! Whuf! with a higher-pitched whimper. Back and forth, advance and retreat. I was surprised when Jazz entered partway into Sage’s den! Where is the balance point going to be?

A distraction! A group of children came to the public side of the enclosure, howling to the coyotes. Jazz loped closer to them. Sage, curious, emerged from the safety of his den. Each time Sage ventured farther out, and retreated when Jazz trotted back. They were testing each other, sensing, learning a new balance. The children were enchanted. “Look! They’re playing!” How different things seem, just seeing the action without understanding the under-story.

After the older Sage came out and trotted halfway down the outer enclosure, the younger Jazz followed him back into his den. What will happen, I wondered? Jazz urinated and defecated in the middle of Sage’s den. Sage ignored it. Jazz walked over and ate some of Sage’s food. Sage ignored it.

Over an hour later, the two coyotes were still sorting out the new balance of their relationship. The older used calming signals such as turning his head or body sideways, and declined to engage with challenges from the younger. The younger toned down his posturing. They took turns urinating on the same spot, each marking it as his own. They were redefining the balance of their relationship. These delicate negotiations will continue as the older continues to age and the younger continues to mature.

An important lesson lives in this experience. Someday the younger coyote will be the older one, learning to deal with the challenges of a changing dynamic.

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*Sulphur Creek Nature Center is a wildlife education and rehabilitation facility, a program of the Hayward (CA) Area Recreation and Park District. I serve there as a volunteer wildlife caretaker. For more information about Sulphur Creek, please visit their website, http://www.haywardrec.org/sulphur_creek.html

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"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Gandhi
"There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together." - attributed to Gandhi
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