Steve Skinner

I love coyotes. They are mystical, magical animals … legends of Native American folklore and a constant source of instinctual fascination for my little shelter dog, Chooch. All dogs are related, and Chooch is part coyote, at least on the inside.

And what’s a dog worth? I could not put a price on my guy.

I cannot understand how Chooch ended up at the CARE shelter. I wasn’t even looking for a dog, but when I saw Chooch I fell in love. Chooch was out for a test drive with a friend. I saw them at Fat Belly in Carbondale. Chooch was a compact, multi-colored, furry funbag with eyelashes about 5 inches long. The way most people react to him, especially women, is priceless.

“Did you see those eyelashes?!” is a common reaction.

I told my buddy that if “Chip” didn’t work out, I’d be interested in taking him. I was in no position to have a dog, but Chooch charmed me. Sure enough, about a month later my friend called saying that the family would prefer a bigger dog and that Chooch would not stop obsessing over their family cats. Instincts.

When Chooch hears the call of the wild in the form of coyotes yipping and howling, he becomes one with them. He yips and even howls sometimes. He can’t help it. He thinks he’s a coyote.

Native Americans, all the way back to the Myth Age, spoke of the trickster coyote who knew human nature and invented copulation. If you like copulation, thank a coyote.

Coyotes in my neighborhood must have been copulating lately because they seem to be wherever they want, whenever they want, all over the place, all the time. They set up a pack, and they don’t care who knows it.

When I walk out the front door in the morning, they are out there yipping in the meadow across the river. I close my eyes at night and awake to one giggling right outside the window, communicating directly with my dog.

Chooch used to bark and whine when he heard the coyotes, but now he listens in silence. I think he’s downloading secret instructions for the takeover of humans.

Coyote was always portrayed as a “he” by natives, and he could appear as a human if he wanted. From the descriptions I’ve read, he could pass for a winter tourist in a fur coat in Aspen. Navajo legend says that coyote looked like a man in a “hairy coat, lined with white fur that fell to his knees and was belted at the waist.” We’ve all seen that guy in town.

Aspen went through a fur crisis in the 1980s, when tourists from Texas and New York were wandering all over town in mink fur, weasel fur, fox fur and, yes, coyote fur. The town almost went as far as to enact a fur ban. There was loathing and contempt for furry tourists.

Fur is back with the in-crowd again. If you are wearing one of those “Canada Goose” jackets, you are wearing Chooch’s furry friends in the form of coyote fur. The coats are so popular that trappers are having a hard time luring enough western coyotes into their traps. They’ve resorted to the less luxurious eastern coyote fur, which is not as thick and silky.

What’s a coyote worth?

Eastern furs are fetching between $19 and $46 at the auction houses where buyers are turning them into trim for Canada Goose coats, which fetch around $1,000 from celebrities and the fashion-conscious.

Some celebrities are the worst. And Chooch thinks that the fashion-conscious are not all that conscious, either.

The coyote diet is 90 percent meat. This includes everything from deer to rattlesnakes. Yes, rattlesnakes. Coyote teases snake. Snake stretches out. Tricky coyote bites the head and snaps and shakes it to death. Coyote eats snake.

Wow, coyotes really are like people.

In the book “Mammals in Kansas” Bee James writes that coyotes sound alarms, greet friends and lovers, and make noisy contact. They use one of their yips for a kind of elaborate greeting ceremony and for when pups are playing. When I hear happy yips I like to think that they are having a good time, being left alone and doing coyote things.

Folks in the big city don’t appreciate coyotes. I have been seeing and hearing coyotes for years, and am glad they are part of the mix of people and wild things. They tolerate us and keep to themselves. They are not prying open bear-proof trash cans and breaking into kitchens at night. They do, however, sometimes take down household pets so be wary of that trickster coyote.

The Navajos say that the coyote taught humans how to protect themselves from physical danger. He hid his vital parts in the tip of his tail. Tricky!

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it! Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect!”

– Chief Seattle

Steve Skinner can be reached at nigel@sopris.net.