Media blames coyotes for off-leash dog encounter

A picture of a coyote
A coyote (Canid latrans) walks down a roadway. Photo by Harry Collins / Getty Images

An off-leash dog, out of sight of their human companion, got in a fight with two coyotes – and the media is calling it an attack by the coyotes.

Castanet reported that the Peachland resident was on trails, several blocks from their home and “quite a ways into the field.” The residents’ Cocker Spaniel was off leash, and out of sight.

“My (cocker spaniel) caught a smell, I thought she was chasing birds, and by the time I caught up to her there were two coyotes after her,” Castanet reports the resident saying. “I was screaming, of course, and I don’t know how she got away because they were in like a little culvert; I couldn’t see her but I could hear her.”

The cocker spaniel reportedly had blood on her mouth and ear, which the resident identified as belonging to a coyote. When the cocker spaniel came to the resident, she was picked up, and one of the coyotes approached the pair. The resident also had with her a Golden Retriever, though whether they were on leash is uncertain.

With their prosthetic leg, the resident kicked at the coyote, and then began to try and leave the area. While doing so, one of the coyotes allegedly followed her, though what happened beyond that is also unclear.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life and I’m an avid hunter, I’m an avid fisher, I’m an avid camper and I’ve never ever been that close to a coyote,” said the resident. “Somebody’s going to get really hurt. I’m fortunate that I didn’t but … being 60-years old with one leg, I was so scared that I was going to die, it was just unbelievable.”

While this encounter was no doubt harrowing, it was entirely avoidable. Faulting the dog or the coyotes for this incident is counterproductive and, as is often the case, virtually impossible to prove who started it. There is no indication that the journalist attempted to contact anyone who could speak to the behaviour of the coyotes in this situation.

Here’s a few fast facts that can help put these events into context:

  • Peachland is a small community surrounded by regional and provincial parks, southwest of Kelowna on the Okanagan Lake.
  • A study has shown that in 92.3% of reported dog-coyote interactions during the multi-year study period, the dogs were off-leash.
  • Dogs – canids related to coyotes and wolves – represent a threat to wildlife, and wild animals may react defensively to their presence.
  • In reporting conflict between humans, journalists are ethically (and in cases of libel, legally) bound to provide the opportunity for all individuals, particularly those accused, to have their opinion or version of events included in a story.

If the fact-finding exercise of eliminating implied intent, opinion and emotive response from the article is utilized, very quickly it becomes a shorter, less intense article:

  • An off-leash dog in a natural area encountered wildlife.
  • The encounter left the dog unharmed, though the wild animal(s) may have been harmed.
  • The dogs’ owner is reasonably upset/frightened by the incident.
  • There is no mention as to whether the off-leash dog was in violation of local by-laws or trail regulations.
  • There is no evidence the dog was attacked (and the same reasoning used to say the dog was attacked can be utilized to say that the dog attacked the coyotes).

There is a need for journalists to identify that they have a responsibility in telling stories about wildlife, animals or the environment. We encourage all those who may report on wildlife to visit AnimalsandMedia.org and check out the style guides for ethical and responsible reporting on non-human animals.

This article was co-authored by The Fur-Bearers and Coyote Watch Canada.

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