A dog-eat-dog world

If any of you all (that’s the Nevada way to say “y’all”) are looking to escape to the amazing sump called Death Valley for blissfully solarized, ultra-mega weather during one of our inevitably freezing weekends of March, April or May, that’s cool. You know the drill. If you don’t, you’ll figure it out.

But a heads up for dog owners: There’s a warning coming out of the park this winter to those of you inclined to bring Fido down there (and really, why wouldn’t you bring the dog to D.V.?) According to Cal, a volunteer who helps maintain the Mesquite campground (that’s the one about five miles down from Scotty’s Castle), dogs are getting killed there. Killed and eaten. Tough to top that as a way to thoroughly ruin a family weekend outing.

Cal’s the guy who greets every incoming camper and gives them the lowdown on the coyotes at Mesquite. There’s a pack of seven of them, working the campground and working it hard. Therefore, the new rules are if you get spotted feeding coyotes or leaving food on the picnic table, you’re busted. That’s a $350 ticket.

Cal’s friendly enough with his rap. He’s just making the point that there’s a real problem here, and the problem is not going to be dealt with by the killing or removal of the coyotes, which is refreshingly laudable. This problem will instead be dealt with by challenging the human visitors to have a clue and modify their behaviors appropriately.

Cal has some special words for dog owners who visit Mesquite: Have it together. Really. If you don’t, there’s a chance your beloved pooch could end up as coyote poop. What the coyotes have been doing is extremely crafty, perfect trickster stuff, and it’s deadly serious. One coyote will spot a camper who’s walking the dog on a leash. The coyote will then race past the pair of them from the rear, so as to completely startle both. Often enough, the owner will have a loose grip on the leash and lose it when the dog bolts to chase after the coyote. That’s the mistake the cunning little bastards are hoping for. The dog hauls off after the coyote, which hustles down into a gulch away from the campground. The dog mindlessly pursues and … then … notices … that he is now surrounded by six coyotes. Uh-oh.

I asked Cal how many dogs have died this way. “In the first two months of this year, 12,” he said. “Twelve?” I replied, with more than a bit of “Oh, come now, my good man,” in my voice. “Yep, 12.” What about size, I wonder? The coyotes are probably just pickin’ on the little ones, right? “The bigger the better,” reported Cal, a retired Air Force sergeant who doesn’t seem inclined to wild-eyed raving or even statistical hyperbole.

Later that night, in the cold darkness, the pack fired up a loud group yipfest in the middle of the campground. It was dramatic, wild and stirring. You wouldn’t call it cute.