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Coyote Town: Leave SF’s Coyotes Alone 

Wednesday, Sep 9 2015
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Some know Janet Kessler as the Jane Goodall of San Francisco's coyotes. Another apt title might be the Mad-Eye Moody of responsible dog ownership.

"Vigilance," she says, a mantra she repeats at least four times during a brief conversation after a coyote attacked and badly hurt a 3-year-old Bichon Frise near Stern Grove in late August. "[Attacks are] totally preventable if folks are vigilant."

Kessler, 65, has spent the last 10 years observing and documenting the coyotes of San Francisco. She regularly posts photographs of our wild canine neighbors — there are coyotes in every SF park, she says — as well as descriptions of coyote behavior on her blog, And as she traverses the city's parks, she educates her fellow humans on how to react if they have a coyote encounter: Leash your dog as soon as you spot a coyote, make eye contact, and step "menacingly" toward the animal. If it doesn't back off, assume the coyote is protecting its pups and back away slowly.

Kessler's years observing urban coyotes have given her some insight into human behavior as well: She won't reveal the locations of coyote dens because she knows swarms of people will come to gawk.

"Coyotes have all become habituated to human presence and are very wary," she says, but small dogs resemble their usual, small mammalian prey. The solution: "My god, keep vigilant."

Note: Janet Kessler has written in to clarify that it is urban coyotes that become habituated to human presence, and that they are nevertheless very wary of humans.

About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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