Friday, July 10, 2009

Running Scared

Last night, wanting to enjoy the almost fall-like July in recent memory, I decided to take the girl for an extra evening hike. But I was running about 20 minutes late, arriving at the creek at 7:50. There were no cars in the parking lot... a rarity on a cool night.

Feeling certain I wouldn't see anyone, I made a critical mistake. I chose the leave the leash in the car. I hate carrying a leash! Ninety-five percent of the time, I wear it bandolier style across my right shoulder drooping down to my left waist. It stays there until we return to the car. For years, I never carried one at all but after one too many encounters with "leash-walkers" (My favorite cuss word and greatest insult to a dog person I can think of!) I started wearing the leash myself... just to have it handy.

The other reason for my evening hike has to do with our broke state's water gouging laws. California now tells us when we have to water our lawns and mandated that we all cut back. Because they are gouging our water prices, I stopped watering all but one section of my back yard in March. When driving through my town, you can easily spot my house. It's the one with pretty roses on the dead lawn! And my dog longs for a nice expanse of green.
The golf course when the sod was going in 2003

Couple that with our local golf course upping it's day rate to nearly $200 a game which means, there aren't as many golfers. Since the golf course was built in the middle of my favorite trails, many dog owners sneak onto the course just before sunset for a good run.

It's heaven to see the dogs running on the that lovely, open green area and with runny babbits dashing in the distance.

Just as we neared the end of the trail and the beginning of the green, I noticed Mabel was tracking but I misread her excitement and thought it was bunnies. I looked up and saw a large male and smaller female coyote topping the hill on the green. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them headed for a trail newbie - a border collie mix named Attila (such an inappropriate name!). I yelled out to his dad, "Attila! Coyotes coming up on your 8!"

Attila and his dad reversed course and came towards us and the coyotes went on their way...or so we thought. Mabel played with the puppy a bit and then we noticed the big male was sitting on the other end of the golf course from us...watching.

Mabel saw him and took off. He retreated as she chased while we along with Attila tried to keep up. We came out on a really wide golf hole...several acres of green. The female coyote stopped at the far end but the sneaky male hid behind a hill with only his big ears sticking up.

We all caught our breath for a second when Mabel saw the female - but not the male in hiding. She charged the screaming the whole time. As she passed the male, he started chasing Mabel and she quickly turned on him.

But some part of me thinks Mabel sees them as "dogs" to play with and run with. I really don't think she means them harm but I don't like her charging off because who knows how many coyotes are out there? I've witnessed coyotes gang up on a older dog and I've seen a female try to lure a male dog sexually, while the pack watches close by!

The two wild ones took off in the distance and I saw Mabel headed back to us. She was full of herself. She was strutting for Attila! And then, through the brush, the male coyote appeared. He matched Mabel's stride about 10 feet behind her. He was closing in on her and she was clueless!

I was shouting, "On your 6! Turn around!" (Mabel knows "left" and "right" and since I never taught her those commands, I figured it's just the way we communicate. This girl astounds me with her understanding.)

She didn't get it and the male was getting closer. I started screaming at him. "NO! LEAVE HER ALONE!"

But some part of me was paralyzed! Luckily Attila's dad sprang into action. He, along with his pup, started charging toward Mabel and coyote. It somehow registered with me, RUN! I charged them too, yelling the whole way.

Mabel finally realized I wasn't yelling at her and turned around. The girl turned on a dime and went straight for the male and he took off. Knowing I would never get her back standing in that field, I said my thank yous and goodbyes to Attila and company and headed toward the last hole.

I could hear Attila's dad charging the male, yelling at him and I knew Mabel was in trouble again. I just kept walking away and calling to her, knowing she would come eventually. Within a few minutes, I heard Attila's dad yelling his name. I knew Mabel was headed toward me and that the puppy had gotten away from dad and was following. Within seconds they both topped the hill behind me. I stepped on Attila's leash and got him back to his dad.

This whole event has left me shaken. Just because I hike somewhere every day, I cannot take for granted it is safe. It's NOT my backyard, even if I think of it that way.

So many - especially the leash walkers - don't get why so many of us hike here. It gives our house bound dogs a taste of freedom. We can both explore without being tethered to each other. Mabel has a lift in her body as she roams that vast valley and I have a lift in my heart.

Regardless of how others see it, to me it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. But with Mabel getting older - she's seven now - I'm going to have to keep a closer reign on her. I know I can't take the golf course trail at night without a larger pack to back us up ever again.


Linda@VS said...

Oh. My. Gosh! I would have been paralyzed with fear in these circumstances. So glad you weren't completely alone.

I miss you and hope to be back in the middle of the blogosphere before too much longer.

Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you are all ok! Coyotes are so smart. I occasionally hear about similar things in our area!

Anonymous said...

Urban coyotes are so much more aggressive and confident than their mountain cousins here are. We are far more concerned about the roaming dog packs than the coyotes who den above us. I'm glad you came through this one okay and hope you never have a repeat. Do you carry pepper spray or anything like that? Even a can of black pepper in your pocket is good to dump on the heads of a fighting pack. Hard to fight when you can't see or breathe.

As one of the loathed 'leash walkers' I thought I would explain that in some cases, like with sight hounds and greyhounds in particular, they must be on leash in open areas for their own safety. After thousands of years of genetic programming to chase, any running animal will turn off all reason with the only focus being on chasing. They will run until they are exhausted and have no idea where they are. They will run right through barb wire fences and directly into traffic. There are a few rare ones who can be trusted, Duffy, Vannie and Mikey were safe in our own history. But ones like Ellie proved over and over again that no amount of training would bring her back if she got out of the yard on a chase.


CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Velvet, I miss you too! So glad to see you here!

Janel, Welcome! Thanks for commenting!

Carmon, You are NOT a leash walker! I think I'm gonna have to blog about that!

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Oh and re: pepper spray. I used to carry it with Maggie. She was a very docile rottie and some dogs would just look at her and attack! One day, I sprayed a German shepherd advancing on us while snarling. It was then I learned you have to pay attention to which way the wind is blowing! Maggie and I got a face full of pepper spray and I've never carried it again!