Little Joey came running up to greet me with a smile on his face. He was so adorable I barely noticed the bite marks on the head of the 5-pound, 18-month-old Yorkie.
A few days before Christmas, Joey had been snatched by a coyote as he played in the yard, chasing birds.
Luckily, Joey’s owner, 84-year-old Frank VerHey, was standing close by at his work bench and saw the abduction.
“That sonofagun coyote jumped over the fence, picked Joey up by the head and took off,” Frank told me Wednesday.
Frank immediately gave chase, running after the predator as his pup dangled and flopped from the coyote’s mouth.
“He jumped back over the fence with me after him,” Frank said. “He cut across the street. I ran as fast as I could run.”
For a few frantic minutes, Frank followed them through his neighbors’ yards, up the street and down the alley of the Emerald Acres Mobile Home Park on north Cascade Avenue, near a bend in Monument Creek.
“I’m 84 years old with a pacemaker,” Frank said, vividly recalling each step in the chase. “I was trying to follow that little bugger.”
It must have been quite the scene: Frank running and hollering for help; a neighbor screaming as the coyote raced toward her with little Joey; and finally another neighbor confronting the escaping canine, causing it to drop Joey in a heap and race off.
“He dropped him in the middle of D Street,” Frank said. “He was bleeding bad. I picked him up and ran him to the hospital. They told me he didn’t have a 20 percent chance of making it.”
But three days later, and after $1,900 worth of surgery to close his wounds, Joey was declared a Christmas miracle and released. Frank and his wife of 62 years, Mary, celebrated the return of their little dog.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
Even as we spoke, the would-be kidnapper and his pals were trotting through the 18-acre field that separates the creek from the mobile home park and Frank and Mary’s trailer.
It was mid-afternoon but the five coyotes were not shy as a couple of them rough-housed on a pile of dirt near the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail along the creek.
And that’s the problem. Frank said the coyotes aren’t afraid of humans. They hang around all the time. Even hop in the yard and steal pieces of bread he tosses to the birds he feeds in his yard.
“They are so brazen,” Frank said. “They roam around here like they own the place. Do we have to live like this, worried that they’re going to grab our dog and kill him?”
So I called Michael Seraphin, spokesman for the state Division of Parks and Wildlife. Surely, I suggested, there must be something Frank can do to protect his pet from coyotes. How about shooting them with a small-caliber rifle or pellet gun.
As usual, I was wrong.
“In the county, you’d just shoot them,” Seraphin said bluntly. “But you can’t do that in the city.”
It’s open season on coyotes year-round. And if you kill them on your property, you don’t even need a small game hunting license.
But only in unincorporated areas of the county, that is. Not within city limits, where it’s illegal to discharge weapon.
And it seems the coyotes have figured out they are free to hunt and kill in the city with impunity.
“Urban coyotes feel very brazen,” Seraphin said, echoing Frank. “They never get harassed, shot at or killed for hanging around people.
“They believe people are not a threat.”
Instead, they’ve learned we are a source of food. As a result, coyotes range across the Pikes Peak region, feasting on deer, fox, rabbit, squirrel, mice and anything humans carelessly leave out including bird food and garbage.
“They are omnivores and will eat anything,” Seraphin said. “They catch small mammals like mice and other rodents. And they’ll catch foxes as well as dogs and cats.”
So what are people like Frank supposed to do to protect their pets? I’ve written about rural neighborhoods that hired companies to set out live traps. But Seraphin said coyotes typically are too smart to enter an enclosure. And leg-hold traps are illegal in Colorado and only permitted if there is a threat to human health.
Seraphin suggested everyone who sees coyotes should haze the animals. Scream at them. Throw rocks or cans at them. Spray them with hoses. Make them feel unwelcome.
One option is buying cans of pepper spray that can hit a target 20 feet away. But Seraphin cautioned even pepper spray requires practice to use — aim low so it doesn’t blow back on you.
“Coyotes are becoming an increasing problem in urban areas across North America,” he said. “It’s a difficult question of how to deal with any predator in an urban setting.”
For Frank, it means keeping close track of Joey and finding ways to dissuade the coyotes from lurking near his place.
“I put up motion detectors and lights hoping that might keep them away,” Frank said as Joey happily circled the yard, scampering after birds. “But I guess I just won’t leave Joey alone for a second.”