A PETA moment in San Francisco

This post doesn’t actually have anything to do with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but it falls in the genre of people elevating animals over humans — hence the post title.

If you’re at all familiar with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, you know that it is an extremely urban park.  It’s a strip of green framed north and south and east by acres and acres of residential buildings, with a little more housing and the Pacific Ocean at the extreme west end.  It has a wonderful museum, will soon have a remodeled Academy of Sciences, an Arboretum, and a Japanese Tea Garden, a windmill, a rose garden, and at least two playgrounds.  Children are very welcome there.

The other day, a woman was walking four dogs — two big, two small — when two coyotes suddenly went after her little dogs.  Fortunately, the big dogs chased them off.  She reported the incident, and Animal Control officials went on the hunt.  They eventually spotted the two coyotes and, when the animals appeared to be guarding turf, shot them.  I think that’s a good thing.  I’m sorry for the coyotes, but the fact is that you cannot have a pair of wild, aggressive, carnivorous animals wandering around in a park that caters to small children and that welcomes people with domestic dogs.  This being San Francisco, of course, others aren’t applauding the park services’ appropriate actions:

Authorities defended their decision to shoot and kill two coyotes in Golden Gate Park even as the action triggered a lively debate Monday between those advocating public safety and those arguing the coyotes posed no real danger, or should have been relocated.

Carl Friedman, director of the city Department of Animal Care and Control, expressed regret at the outcome but said there was little choice, given the threat to humans and pets, the odd behavior of the coyotes and the difficulty of trapping and relocating them.

“It was really one of the most difficult and sad weekends we’ve had,” Friedman said. “We were really hoping people would stay away from them and the animals wouldn’t cause any problems, and we could live peacefully together.”

Officials from the state’s Department of Fish and Game decided to shoot the male and female coyotes Sunday night after the animals attacked a pair of large dogs on leashes Saturday, causing one of them minor injuries, and then showed up again Sunday, following a dog walker in the park. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials were brought in to carry out the killings.

The demise of the San Francisco pair fueled heated reaction on both sides of the issue.

“I’m more afraid of the vagrants in the park than the coyotes,” said one of dozens of comments posted to SFGate.com, The Chronicle’s Web site, Monday.

Another wrote: “We don’t need coyotes in Golden Gate Park ready to attack some poor little leashed dog … or, God forbid, a toddler too close to their lair. Get serious, folks … coyotes are scavengers and don’t belong in the city.”

Most wildlife experts sided with the decision to kill the coyotes.



SFGate readers forcefully responded to the news that two coyotes believed to have attacked a pair of leashed dogs in Golden Gate Park on Saturday had been shot and killed by officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some of their comments are excerpted below; their authors granted permission to The Chronicle to use their names. To see more comments on this topic, go here.

Andrew Walker, San Francisco

Outrageous. I’ve run across these coyotes in the park, they are very timid around humans, as are all coyotes. They wouldn’t attack unless provoked or protecting young. Somehow I doubt the dog that fought with the coyote was leashed. I worry more about the humans I come across than the coyotes. And I worry even more about the Feds’ shoot first, shoot last, shoot everything policy.

Christine Quiroz, San Francisco

People suck, and they are trigger happy. There was no need to shoot them. I run in that park almost daily with my dog … if she had been attacked, it is part of nature. A simple warning to avoid the area would have been best. I have encountered people in that park that are much more dangerous than a coyote. Ugh, this just pisses me off. Seems that people won’t be happy until every other creature is wiped off the planet or caged up in a zoo.

Rita Miller, San Francisco

I hate to agree with the authorities on this one — because I love coyotes and all wildlife and to kill these wonderful animals is a tragedy. But coyotes are normally shy, reclusive animals. If you happen to see one, you’re most likely to see the tip of the tail disappearing through the brush. These coyotes were different. Either there was something seriously wrong with them physically — disease or injury, perhaps — or they’d gotten so used to the presence of man and dogs in their territory, they lost their fear entirely. A normal coyote won’t ever attack something bigger than itself — especially not a bigger dog with a human nearby. There was something wrong with these coyotes and, perhaps, the only answer to keep them from attacking more pets or even a small child was to shoot them. Relocation doesn’t work very well with coyotes because they have excellent memories and directional ability. They can always find their way back to the home turf they’ve established.

Russell Mondy, Oakland

Did they even “try” to catch them? If they did not, there is no excuse for this brutality.

Jennifer Golick, Pope Valley

I think I heard it said once (by Gandhi?) that you can judge a society by the way it treats its animals. Sad commentary on S.F. and our society at large when we are so quick to end a life that is just as entitled to open space as humans are. I’m sorry the woman’s dogs got hurt and that she was frightened, but isn’t jumping to extermination as the first resort somewhat reactive and lacking in further exploration of the options?

Leake Little, San Francisco

Seems like they could have tried to understand the situation first, like the population size, its territory, distribution, feeding habits, etc. before simply exterminating two random animals. For instance, maybe brush could have been cut or cleared to make these animals less comfortable with that part of the park. We have had the same issue here in the Presidio recently, and over the course of the past couple of months but our encounters did not result in removing the animals. A reputable wildlife biologist who specializes in dog/coyote interaction suggests moving things around, clearing, and creating more human activity in public areas where coyotes become more territorial with people and dogs, in particular. He especially recommends against culling the mature females since all young females will begin to mate when the older, more dominant female is removed. He recommends culling the pups instead, and only where control is necessary. This action was misguided.

Karen Nichols, Castro Valley

I’m furious that after saying they would take time to assess the situation, they killed the coyotes (especially if they were protecting their young). How long did they assess the situation — all of 3 minutes before they locked and loaded? Was it impossible to tranquilize and relocate them? Coyotes are skittish and given the option, will leave alone if left alone (unless they’re protecting offspring). Advising dog walkers to stay out of the area and recommend that nearby residents keep pets inside should have been sufficient. Coyotes do not attack people without provocation — this is not a situation where the populace was in imminent danger. I sympathize with those whose dogs were attacked, but future attacks could have been avoided easily enough.

Peter Coyote, Mill Valley

Without demonizing Fish and Game personnel, readers should know that more than 22 million coyotes have been poisoned, gassed, shot, and strangled with snares by F&G trappers since the 1920s. The result has been to spread them all over the United States from their original, limited Western range. It’s not that the coyotes were shot, but that they were shot as a first resort that makes the story another example of the failure of humans to respect the other species with whom we share the planet. Had every other remedy been attempted, had there been other attacks, then it might have been necessary to remove them. I might also add that F&G are not stupid. Had the mother been lactating and had there been pups, the odds are very good that we would never have heard a word of it. I mention this only because lots of experience with these critters leads me to believe that there was some extraordinary reason they attacked two large dogs.

By the way, the last commenter is probably actor Peter Coyote, a Marin resident.

After you’ve read all of the above, let me repeat a key element in my post:  Golden Gate Park is a mecca for families with small children.  Golden Park is not a nature area, but is a spot of urban green that was developed more than a hundred years ago for the use and enjoyment of San Francisco’s human residents.  People who would risk the lives of children to protect two coyotes have their values wrong, wrong, wrong.