Maisie and Toby Versus the Coyotes

Hersch Wilson
6 min readApr 17, 2024
Maisie, the Chihuahua mix and her big brother Toby, a Great Pyrenees, after the Great Coyote incident. “All’s well that ends well!

I thought that since this is coyote breeding time, I’d drop a chapter from Dog Lessons on our encounter with a couple of wily ones a few springs ago.

“Hey,” I yelled, with both my arms up. “Get outta here!”
I was shouting at two coyotes who were trailing us on
our morning walk. They were about fifty feet behind us.
Toby and Maisie were straining at their leashes and barking
like mad. Toby wanted to be let loose. Coyotes are his natural
enemy. Ten thousand years of evolution protecting sheep
has hardwired that instinct.
Maisie, on the other hand, while brave, is not the smartest
when it comes to coyote encounters. She was the reason
they were following us. Small dogs often fall prey to coyotes.
She put up a good show. I did get the feeling that while
Toby wanted to go for them, Maisie, while growling and
barking up a storm, was sending me the psychic message:
Hold me back!
It was September, when coyotes are active, and it was
early in the morning, when the wild world is up and about.
New Mexico has a split personality when it comes to
coyotes. On the one hand, there are the ranchers and hunters
who think of them as pests and predators. There used to
be coyote killing contests every year until the voice of the
urban and suburban populations weighed in and the contests
were made illegal on state-owned lands.
In the community we live in, coyotes are tolerated, even
celebrated. There are road signs with the message: “Thank
you for watching out for our coyotes.” There are community
presentations on not using poison for mice because coyotes
eat mice, and the poison goes up the food chain, sometimes
killing the coyotes.
I’m with the tolerating crowd. One of my favorite times
as a firefighter was when, at night, we turned on
our sirens to go to a call and were answered by the howls of
coyotes all around us.
Yet on that morning, as those two coyotes tracked us, I
felt a bit nervous.
The thing about coyotes is that they seem so relaxed.
Their gait is easy, their demeanor calm. In the act of pursuing,
it is as if they’re saying, we do this every day. Mice,
rabbits, pack rats, cats, little dogs. It’s all the same to us. In
Northern California a while ago, an individual was attacked
by a mountain lion. Although he ultimately fought it off,
he couldn’t help but notice how calm the lion was — I’m
the predator, you’re the prey. This is something I do daily. It’s the
circle of life, buddy.
As they got closer, I picked up a few rocks. I have lousy
aim, exacerbated by the fact that I was trying to hold back
two deranged dogs. I did finally throw one rock and missed,
but I spooked the coyotes, and they headed up an arroyo.
As you can imagine, the dogs, the leashes, and I were all
tangled up. In trying to spin around and untangle us, I let go
of Maisie’s leash.
Sensing freedom, in not her brightest move, she sprinted
away, trailing her leash, barking madly, up the arroyo in pursuit
of the two coyotes.
“Shit!” I yelled.
I had only one recourse: Release the kraken! Imagining
myself as Liam Neeson (as Zeus) in Clash of the Titans, I let
Toby go.
He galloped up the arroyo with me stumbling and running
after him.
I could hear Maisie’s bark, but Toby was silent. I imagined
him determinedly focused on catching a coyote. I cut
around a cactus and scrambled up the slope. After a minute
or so, I couldn’t hear Maisie. I called her name: nothing.
I worried that her leash would get caught on a tree or
rocks and she’d be a sitting duck for the coyotes.
Finally, out of breath, hands on my knees, I tried to figure
out what to do next. My only option was to continue up
the arroyo and hope that Maisie had stayed in the drainage.
I headed up. I yelled her name.
A moment later she came bursting around a tree and
came right to me, jumping up. If she could’ve talked, I’m
sure she would’ve told me how brave she was to chase the
coyotes away from her human.
What about Toby? I was confident that one or two coyotes
would run from him, but if he encountered a pack, it
could be trouble. I yelled his name, but he had taken off into
miles of piñon and juniper forest. He could be anywhere and
not hear me.
When Toby didn’t show up, I decided to go back to the
road, take Maisie home, and then go on the hunt for him.
As we made our way down the arroyo, my phone rang.
It was our neighbor, who lived about a half mile from us.
She said Toby had just trotted through their yard and was
headed back toward the road. I thanked her profusely and
headed toward their house.
Within a few minutes, Toby popped out of the brush
and trotted over to Maisie and me on the road. He was out
of breath, but his demeanor said, Mischief sorted!
We walked back to our house, both dogs acting triumphant.
At home, Maisie jumped up on Laurie and wagged
her tail. I’m sure she was trying to convey the whole story of
the hundred coyotes she had single-handedly defeated that
day. The stuff of legends. (Like me, an exaggerator.) Toby,
more blasé, just jumped up on the couch. It was a normal
day for his kin.
Afterward, my views on coyotes didn’t change much,
despite encountering a pair who stalked us. How would I
feel if a coyote had grabbed Maisie? I’d like to believe I’d
be shocked, terrified, and sad, but I wouldn’t buy a gun. The
truth is I want to see coyotes on our walks. I was awestruck
when once a mountain lion banged into our kitchen door. I didn’t love it, but I was awestruck, even as she stared into my soul. I want to witness the flyover of sandhill cranes heading north from the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge.

I want to live in a world where we accommodate and
celebrate the wild, even when it’s inconvenient. In my view,
a few national parks doesn’t cut it. Even if I never visit certain
places, I want to know that wilderness is there.
I fear mine is a minority opinion. I know many ranchers
and farmers want to reduce predation from predators, which
impacts their livelihood. And I know pets and humans need
to be protected, as much as possible, from the extremely
rare attacks by predators, be they grizzlies, mountain lions,
wolves, or coyotes.
I don’t agree with the vociferous group that wishes we
could rid our continent of predators entirely, or of any animals
they deem as “pests,” using traps, poison, shooting
contests. As a teenager, I was driving to visit a friend in February
on a rural road, and from my car I witnessed five or so
individuals, adults and teenagers, on snowmobiles chasing a
terrorized fox through deep snow. Some people see animals
as “things” that are worth nothing except to be hunted and
All that said, our coyote encounter reinforced my commitment
to take simple precautions on our walks. We don’t
walk in the evening or early morning, when coyotes are most
active. Most importantly, I am “situationally aware,” focused
on the walk, not on my phone or listening to podcasts or
other distractions. This is how we need to be in areas where
humans and dogs live close to wilderness (or I suppose on
busy streets). I look around and pay attention to the dogs.
When they stop and their ears perk up, I look and listen.
Toby, because he was bred to protect sheep from coyotes and
wolves, is our bellwether. He is constantly on the lookout for
coyotes. He howls when he hears them, lunges when he sees
them. He is the perfect dog to walk with on our wild road.

Hersch’s latest book, “Dog Lessons: Learning the Important stuff from our Best Friends” is available at bookstores everywhere (support your local bookstore!) and online.



Hersch Wilson

Writer. Retired Firefighter. Dog Lover. Buddhist Beginner.