In San Francisco, dogs outnumber children, and wild coyotes live among us

by Patch O'Furr

(Flayrah news: 5/26/12)

Does anyone remember this story from a few years ago, about a coyote who wandered into a Quizno’s shop, inadvertently starring in one of the best viral sandwich and drink ads ever?

It’s a good topic in San Francico- a city named after St. Francis, the “patron saint of animals.”  It’s a common experience across the world, where wild and feral canines make cities their own.

In Moscow, during the political upheaval of the 1990’s, a society of subway-riding strays grew into a beloved part of the city’s culture, learning to navigate the subways, obey traffic lights, and act affectionate for food, while staying feral and adaptive to conditions that domestic dogs don’t handle well. These dogs make a fascinating subject for study by biologists; one named Malchik is commemorated with a subway statue. Muscovite commuters rub her nose for good luck.

This week in San Francisco, this article on Indybay has photos of Golden Gate Park’s own wild coyotes, and suggests supporting them via organizations like Project Coyote. (“Promoting coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.”)

It looks like a response to last week’s New York Times article, which focuses on city resident’s fears of attacks from these shy and intelligent animals.

In San Francisco, a city of 805,000, there are 108,000
children, according to the 2010 census. And there are 180,000 dogs, and
10 coyotes, according to city estimates. The coyote population has grown
nationwide, with an increasing number making forays into suburban and
urban areas.

Coyotes arrived relatively late here, with the first sightings in
2004. Around that time, a coyote was videotaped crossing the Golden Gate
Bridge into the city at night. Genetic tests later confirmed that the
city’s coyotes share ties to those found to the north, on the other side
of the bridge.

For those who haven’t had a close-up view of the Golden Gate Bridge (75 years old tomorrow), that’s an incredible migration for a wild animal using a highly trafficked route (and one of the best bike rides I’ve ever done!)

Many more amazing San Francisco bay area coyote photos (and even recordings of howls) can be found on this photographer’s page.

Mediating the porous boundaries between wildlife, people, and their pets often falls on municipal agencies like San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control. As a volunteer for them, I have to promote them as a super cool place and suggest that interested people get involved in your own city, especially in places lacking generous budgets.

Coyotes, hawks, and even a bear have gone through SFACC’s doors. It’s a public, open-door shelter that has to take any animal that comes in (unlike the SPCA, which selects for adoptability). It maintains a high success rate of around 80% housing (so I was told), while shelters in less advantaged places have numbers like 30%.

Part of the reason for success is its dedicated volunteers, who even help run a program of mercy for condemned animals on “death row” for being vicious, while court appeals may pend for a long time before they’re euthanized.

Shelter volunteering is awesome. It’s free, it’s good for your health, it’s rewarding for other people and animals, and it’s worth putting on your resume. All it takes is a short training course to be approved, then you can take dogs out for walking and socialize them to help find a forever home. It’s a good way to ease into adopting your own, too.

Furry fandom is cool, and this is a fun way to take it farther.