DEAR JOAN: We live near open space and see our share of coyotes. Our next door neighbors have a dog who, unsurprisingly, barks every time she sees a coyote.
The other day a coyote was casually traipsing by our houses. The dog barked. The coyote looked at the dog, then just as casually squatted, went to the bathroom and sauntered away.
Was the coyote marking its territory? Or was it the coyote equivalent of giving the dog the finger? I’ve seen this behavior a couple of times now so it’s not a one-off. Any ideas?
Maria Vandegriff, Dublin
DEAR MARIA: Two answers seem obvious. One, coyotes are jerks. Or two, yes, of course it is marking its territory. As it turns out, it’s just not that simple.
Animals, of course, aren’t jerks, although some of their behavior can be a little on the eye-rolling side. To find out whether the behavior might be a sign of dominance over territory, I read a 71-page study (you’re welcome) that looked at the subject from every angle, and I do mean every angle.
Researchers from the University of Colorado studied a pack of coyotes in Wyoming in the Yellowstone area. They tried to separate scent marking from normal elimination, and even noted when animals raised their legs or squatted, and whether the coyote was male, female or a juvenile.
In the end, they didn’t reach any definite conclusions, other than that coyotes do mark scent to define territory, alert intruders, announce a willingness to mate, let other members of pack know that they’re “home,” mark a food source or just because.
As to the coyote in question, the fact that it squats instead of hiking a leg could indicate it just needed to go, or it might be a female. I think it’s likely that because it eliminates in the same location, it is doing it in response to the barking dog, reinforcing the territory marking.
Or it could just be a jerk.
DEAR JOAN: Why is it that a few cats dip their paws in the water dish? It makes the water unappetizing for other cats in the household.
Nancy Williams, Hayward
DEAR NANCY: You may have answered your own question.
Seriously, though, cats can have difficulty discerning the surface of the water because it’s transparent and cats’ eyes, while impressive at seeing in the dark, have trouble with other things.
They reach into the dish with their paw in order to locate the level of water, and by tapping the water, they create some ripples that are easier for them to see.
If it’s causing an issue for the other cats, you could consider buying a water dispenser that creates the ripples for them, eliminating the need for tapping.
Clearing things up
My recent column on providing water for wildlife during the drought caused some confusion because after telling people not to put out water for animals, in the next breath I said it was OK to put out water for the birds.
Bird feeders and birdbaths are considered the exception to the rule. The birds, already in yards or neighborhoods, don’t become dependent on us or associate the feeders with humans. It does mean, however, we must accept the responsibility for keeping the water source clean to prevent disease.
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