Opinion

Alex Beam

Falling in love with the coyote (sort of)

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I can be wary of the Be Nice to Coyotes movement, don’t you think? I am, after all, the man who wrote a column with the headline: “Kill the Coyotes.”

I only recently became aware of California-based Project Coyote, which “works to change negative attitudes toward coyotes, wolves, and other native carnivores by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding, respect, and appreciation.” The organization is active in Massachusetts. Indeed, I just attended one of their embrace-your-inner-coyote information sessions in the western suburbs.

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Their website features a testimonial from actor Peter Coyote (real name Rachmil Cohon; no relation to Wile. E.), who explains: “If people care about where they live, and if they care about living in a clean, safe, and healthy environment, then they have to care about coyotes.”

I’ve seen capital-C Coyote romping around the Roman Polanski howler “Bitter Moon” in bikini briefs (sample line: “the animal within was roused by my caress”), so I take everything he says with a grain of salt.

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Where I live, in Newton, people care a lot about coyotes. Mainly, they’d like to get rid of them, to protect their expensive little genetically engineered dogs with odd breed names like “lhasa-doodle.” “Newton is a perfect place for coyotes,” Project Coyote representative John Maguranis told us last month. “Newton and Belmont,” where Maguranis works as an animal control officer, “are towns that have lots space between the houses.”

Belmont publishes a famous online map of coyote sightings, of which I see about 60 currently logged. Yikes! There have been two on South Cottage Road, on the former grounds of McLean Hospital, where Mitt Romney lived until just recently. No wonder he skipped town.

Maguranis is a gregarious, friendly bear of a man, a former Army veterinary technician and owner of six cats, which he is very careful not to let roam outdoors. I felt he occasionally gilded the coyote lily, so to speak, especially when he suggested that coyotes provided “free rodent control” that helps combat Lyme disease.

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I asked Phillip J. Baker, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation, if this rang true to him. “I know of no data on [coyotes] impact with regard to the spread of Lyme disease,” he answered in an e-mail. “I suspect that if there is an impact of coyotes on the spread of Lyme disease, it is likely to be trivial if any.”

Maguranis also mentioned that coyotes might be taking a bite out of the Canada Goose population, but if so, they need to ramp up their appetite. When I queried him about this, he allowed that coyotes mainly ate Canada Goose eggs, not the overstuffed, barely flighty-worthy hulks themselves. That brings to mind the old joke about 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean: It’s a start.

It’s been a tough winter for coyotes, as it has for all of us. But they will doubtless be back in force when the snows clear, loping around the lavish golf courses, splashy fens, and open spaces of metropolitan Boston.

Yes, their preferred diet is voles and Peter Cottontail, but rabbits may be in short supply after the cruel winter. Column B on their menu consists of cats — yes, do keep them indoors — and that sweet little hypoallergenic pooch you overpaid for.

“They’re survivalists,” Maguranis says. “They’ll do anything it takes to survive, and if that means living in your back yard, they’ll do it. They’re in your back yard because their back yard is gone. Be a little bit more compassionate when you see them.”

OK, I’ll bite, so to speak. As long as they don’t bite back.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at alexbeam@hotmail.com.

Related:

Derrick Z. Jackson: For bears, too much protection can backfire

Jerry Cianciolo: When is pet euthanasia unkind?

Editorial: Learning to grin and bear it with backyard wildlife

Nathaniel Morris: A dog’s lessons for one medical student

2013 | Jennifer Graham: Make way for turkeys?

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