E. P. Lande
© Copyright 2022 by E. P. Lande
Photo (c) Marc Beerman, http://www.oldmanphotography.com
I call it “Jeanne’s valley” because I buried Jeanne in a spot overlooking the valley, and built a stone memorial to enclose her grave. One day, I, too, will be buried there, beside her. The valley is pleasant, with areas to climb and descend. Lily and Mandela enjoy running and sniffing, and occasionally wandering into the abutting forest; they’re dogs, after all.
Jeanne wasn’t always here. When she died, I buried her in the community cemetery, but I wasn’t happy. We’d been together almost our entire lives—since she was thirteen and I, fourteen—and to have her away from me, distressed me. So, I petitioned the town, to create a burial site on my property, and then reburied Jeanne there. A free-stone mason created a memorial around the grave. He called it the “horse’s eye”, because its shape resembled the eye of a horse—when seen from above. I visit Jeanne, often with Lily who was her dog, and when there, we chat, —at least, I do; Jeanne listens.
On a day in the fall, I was walking with Lily and Mandela, past Jeanne’s memorial, when I saw what seemed to me to be a small fox. It was crouched in the path, about two hundred yards from us. We continued walking towards it, Lily and Mandela oblivious to there being another creature close-by. When it saw us, it ambled off, into the adjacent woods. Being accustomed to seeing wild animals—bear, deer, moose, coyotes, otters, beavers, mink, racoons, fisher cats, and, of course, wild turkeys—when strolling through my forest, I wasn’t concerned—except for Lily and Mandela, and, on second thought, for my chickens and ducks back in the coops.
continued walking, my eyes scanning the path in front of us as well
as the woods, in case the animal returned, as I didn’t want my
dogs—especially Mandela—to be harmed. That evening, I
told José we had encountered what looked to me like a young
fox. We decided to keep the chickens and ducks in the enclosed area
in back of the stable, to protect them—although a fox could
easily jump the fence surrounding the area.
The following day, I took Lily and Mandela once more on the same walk, and again I saw the young animal, this time in a different spot on the path, and again it looked at us, then darted into the neighboring brush.
When I told José, he said he had seen what might be the same animal, only he saw it by the pond—on the other side of the coops.
“It looks very young,” he mentioned. “I think we should put out some food; it’s probably hungry … and we don’t want it to attack one of our chickens.”
I took out some chicken tenders I had in our fridge, and placed them on the ground close to where I’d seen the youngster. When I took the dogs for their walk the next day, all the food was gone. We continued this routine—walking into the valley and leaving raw chicken on the path—for a few more days.
“You know what I think?” José said one evening while we were watching the news. “I think there is more than one ….”
“You mean, there might be … several?” Since the animal I’d seen each day—but in a different spot along the path—looked the same, I’d thought it was the same animal, —but, José might have been right.
“I also think they’re pups without a mother,” José said.
“You mean, the mother might have been killed?”
“Exactly. We haven’t heard any shots, but another wild animal might have killed—or injured—the mother, and the pup—or pups—could possibly have been abandoned.”
“Or orphaned,” I added.
“We have to capture them ….”
“Tomorrow, leave the raw chicken in a have-a-heart trap ….”
“And if we capture them? Then what?” I wondered if a young wild animal—a fox—could be raised as a pet?
“Let’s capture it—or them—first; then we’ll decided what to do.”
When José went to see the trap the following day, the food was gone, but the animal wasn’t in the trap. This happened three days running. On visiting the trap the fourth day he spotted the young animal, crouching on the ground.
“Bring a blanket,” he told me when he called on his iPhone, staying with the animal until I arrived. José then gently picked up the animal and wrapped it in the blanket. The animal didn’t struggle, allowing him to handle it, and while José walked back to the house, carrying the animals wrapped in the blanket, I ran on ahead and prepared a large cage with hay, water, and a bowl of raw pieces of chicken. José carried the wrapped animal into the house and placed it in the cage.
That evening, instead of watching CNN and FOX, we sat mesmerized in front of the cage.
“You know, it’s not a fox; it’s a coyote pup,” José announced. To me, it looked like a fox, but when I googled coyote pups, I realized José was probably right.
The next day, I again walked with Lily and Mandela in Jeanne’s valley, believing we had the little creature we’d encountered on our past walks, when, about a hundred yards in front of me, there it was—the exact same animal! José was right again; there were more than one.
“We have to repeat what we did, and trap its sibling,” José said that evening. The coyote pup we’d caught the day before appeared to be doing well, eating the raw chicken and drinking—but not when we were in the house … only after we’d left. Despite the risks of handling a wild animal—for rabies is rampant in the wild—José would reach in the cage, pat it, and the pup did not appear to be frightened.
The next day, when José went to check the trap, he brought another blanket with him. The second coyote pup was there … waiting, as though he expected José. Wrapped in the blanket, José brought the second pup back to the house and placed it in the cage with the first one. They immediately huddled together, and when we weren’t there, they ate the raw chicken pieces we’d left in their bowl, and drank the water.
“Why do you think they allowed you to handle them?” I asked.
“I think they’ve been on their own for a while, and haven’t had food,” he explained. “They’re too young to hunt so they were starving. When we found them, they were weak from lack of proper nourishment.” He reached into the cage and patted both pups. “We either raise them and then release them on our property, or we have to find a wild animal sanctuary that will accept them,” José told me.
“Raising them without the proper facilities—which we don’t have—would be unfair to the animals,” I said. “We should find them a home in an animal sanctuary.”
I texted our neighbor and friend, John, who I knew was a naturalist when he wasn’t writing a movie script. He had recently texted me photos of young foxes and of bear cubs he watched over on his land that was adjacent to ours.
“I’ll send you the contact information of the person I’ve used,” he texted, and I called John’s contact immediately.
Unfortunately, his contact wasn’t able to help, as, “I don’t rehab coyote pups,” but he gave me the name of someone he thought might—Medora.
Medora had developed a rehabilitation facility on her property, about an hour from where we lived, and she had access to almost a thousand acres adjacent to hers. Before releasing any of her charges into the thousand acres, Medora kept them in a large area resembling their natural habitat, enclosed by a high chain fence. At the time of my call, Medora was in the process of rehabbing several coyote pups and was gladly willing to help.
“If yours are about the same age as the ones I have, I’ll put them together. You say one of yours in a male, the other a female? Great, because mine are all females. They’ll create a pack when released.”
“Do you simply open the gate of the enclosed area and let them go free?” I asked, because I was concerned for our pups.
“They remain in the enclosed area, where I leave food and water, until I feel they’re sufficiently strong to be on their own,” Medora explained. “Then I open the gate and allow them to leave and return as they choose. I always monitor their whereabouts, with cameras, and I always leave food and water. Eventually, they leave … and don’t return, making the acreage outside my fenced-in area their permanent home.”
We agreed to meet the next day, in the parking lot of Exit 15 of the interstate highway. Medora said she would be in a rusted dark blue Ford pickup. That evening, José and I mulled over our decision, asking each other if we had made the right one.
it’s for the welfare of the pups. We should be thinking of
them, not ourselves,” José told me. “It would be
selfish were we to keep them caged until the spring and then let them
free on our property. They’ll have learned nothing about
survival, whereas at Medora’s sanctuary they’ll learn how
to take care of themselves, hunt, —and, it’s a plus that
already has three female pups; our male,” he said as he was petting the male pup, “will be the leader of the pack.”
All the way driving to meet Medora the following day I couldn’t help but ask myself if we were doing the right thing. While I knew we didn’t have the proper facilities to raise and acclimate wild pups to the world outside, I felt guilty. But then I remembered the book Born Free and Elsa the lioness. It’s not about me, I kept telling myself; it’s about them. But it’s difficult, to overcome the desire to protect, and I thought that to protect these two pups they had to stay with José and me.
My debate within myself continued until I parked my truck beside Medora’s Ford pickup.
“They are adorable,” she said as she reached into the cage and lifted one of them out, placing it in the cage she had prepared on the back seat of her pickup.
“Will you let us know how they’re doing?” I asked after she had placed the second in the cage with its sibling.
“Of course, and you and your partner can visit my sanctuary anytime.”
When she drove off, I remained, watching her truck disappear on the interstate. I knew we had done the right thing … but it saddened me just the same.
Two days later, when I was again walking with Lily and Mandela in Jeanne’s valley, I saw, in the distance, an animal that resembled our pups. As we approached, it ran into the brush.
“José, there’s a third one out there,” I told him when we met later that day. Actually, John had told me that coyotes generally have four to seven pups in a litter, although the size of a litter can be adjusted by the coyotes themselves, depending on the availability of food and the numbers of coyotes in the area.
The following day, José set the have-a-heart trap once more, but the coyote pup never came to eat the bait, nor did we see it again.
“Let’s hope it’s stronger than the other two,” he said later. “Perhaps it knew it could make it on its own.”
Every few days I text Medora, to ask after “our” pups, and she texts back—with photos—that they are acclimating to their new environment, and that they have integrated with the three female pups.
“They’re a pack,” she announced after a couple of weeks.
Now, whenever I walk in Jeanne’s valley, I think of “our” pups, and I always am on the watch for the third. I hope it made it and that one day I’ll meet it in the forest … as an adult coyote.
I was born in Montreal, I have lived most of my life in Europe, where
I lived in the south of France, and in Vermont, where I now live with
my partner on 500 acres caring for more than 100 animals most of
which are rescues.