Yips in the Dark

When i met the sellers they told me that they had enjoyed listening to the coyotes yip in the dark many a night but they hadn’t heard them in a while. They feared the sheep farmers up the road had finally won the battle and wiped out the remaining of the coyotes who were eating their flock. I didn’t give much thought to the subject for a week or two. I had no reason to. I hadn’t seen any coyotes, though i checked the mud for tracks and scat each time it rained. There were plenty of fox, one possum, at least two raccoons, an armadillo, an occasional road runner, and a herd of deer that frequented the property. However, much to my contentment, no sign of coyote or mountain lion. I assumed there were none in the immediate area but i never left the tiny house without a weapon, just in case, especially at night. Anyone who had met my dog Sili knew that she would follow her momma into the mouth of hell if that’s where her momma went, for loyalty ran deep in her veins. Anyone who had met my dog Sili also knew that she was afraid of everything, from other dogs to thunder. She was a medium sized dog, about 27 lbs. she could be feisty when cornered but her nature was not that of an alpha. Sili was a follower. She was a valued member of my pack but she wasn’t in charge of our property. She was one of the charges on it and it was my job to keep her safe. So when it came time for Sili to go to the bathroom after dark i would pull on my shoes and my belt and accompany her into the star-lit darkness of the night. I would stand in the yard watching her as she timidly searched for a spot to do her business before hurrying past me towards the porch. When squatting she would glance back at me frequently to make sure i hadn’t gone. This cemented in my mind the need for a second dog. Not only was the property too much for Sili to guard by herself, Sili didn’t appear to feel confident, even with me standing armed in the yard. Sili didn’t feel safe. I knew what she needed. She needed an alpha; one that was smaller than her. Sili didn’t accept any kind of dog she thought might have a chance of winning a fight with her. Sili needed a puppy. A headstrong, confident, bold puppy who would one-day usurp her in size and rise to be her alpha…one who she felt she could probably whoop in a scuffle on day 1. I began researching dog breeds with the idea that when the right puppy surfaced, i would know and we would seize the moment. One evening, about 45 minutes before sundown, i was driving home when something ran across the road directly in front of my car. I could see it plain as day through the windshield. It looked right at me as it crossed the road, a haunting boldness in the expression on its face. It looked like a giant fox with a more dog-like snout. I didn’t know what it was at first. I knew coyotes to be bony desperate creatures with mangy coats and hollowed out faces, timidly hiding in the shadows, following neighborhood folk as they walked their yorkies and chihuahuas, waiting for the owners to turn away or answer their phone for just a second too long. This animal was confident, healthy, well-fed. Its face was full, its coat beautiful, and not a bone visible. No fear in this animals eyes. I had expected it to fear the vehicle about to smack into it but it seemed unphased as it trotted across the winding road. I made a mental note that Sili needed a companion that would grow larger than her. The coyote was larger than her. Even if she did find her bravery, it wouldn’t be a fair fight were they ever to cross paths in the yard. Sili spent a great deal of time sniffing all the areas of the yard. She seemed to know what i was realizing and she refrained from drinking water after nightfall and stayed close to the porch when made to go out to potty. Two days after i had seen the coyote cross in front of the car, i had fixed dinner, washed the dishes, and let the dog out to potty. Sili was standing in the yard. She was very stiff. She sniffed the air instead of the ground. I was frustrated with her because she was dragging the process out. I barked at her under my breath, trying not to wake the neighboring ranches, “go poop, Sili! Go poop! Its not hard. Pick a spot!” Sili remained frozen. I heard rustling in the darkness. Immediately my mind went to Max and i scanned the yard for his little glowing eyes, expecting to see him rooting in the dirt for bugs or displacing all the mulch in my pile. Then i heard a noise that sent a chill down my spine and made my blood run cold. A howl. Not a distant howl but a right-here howl. I had read that coyotes often sounded closer than they were. I was hoping there was truth to that because this one sounded loud enough to be standing somewhere on the property. Another quieter howl answered the first one in the darkness. There was a coyote very near to us having a conversation with at least one other in the distance. As the conversation continued i looked at sili, illuminated by the moonlight. She was standing 30 feet from me. She was looking at me. I couldnt make out her expression in the darkness but i knew from her rigid posture she was terrified. I motioned towards the porch with my hand. She stared at me. I motioned again and again for her to go to the porch. She stood frozen in the yard. The howl was louder now and i could hear dry grass crunch though neither Sili nor i were moving. I realized Sili was not going to move. Perhaps she knew better than i how close they were and feared movement would call attention to her position. I didn’t care what was in the yard or how close it was anymore. I was going to get the dog and go to the house and nothing was going to stand in my way. I unsnapped the holster for the machete on my belt and crossed the grass to where Sili stood. I could hear grass crunch on a different side of the yard. I wondered if the coyote had circled us or if its buddy had caught up. I reached the dog and placed my arms under her belly, lifting her into the air and heading back towards the porch. She remained rigid in my arms; frozen in place. Once i made it to the porch i climbed the stairs, set Sili down, turned the door knob, and lifted her over the threshold into the house. I locked the door behind us and turned on the porch light so i could see. The porch light only illuminated a ten foot circular area of grass near the porch. It revealed nothing. Sili looked up at me, her eyes wide with fear. The howls seemed very loud for a while. Then they became quieter. I told Sili, “it sounds like they’ve gone.” Sili shot me a look that said, “i will shit on the floor and take the consequence before you convince me to go out there again.” I didn’t offer her any more water that night and i didn’t require her to go potty again before bed. She held it, gladly. When i was standing at the stove making ramen i heard a strange noise. It sounded like a bunch of crazy people yipping in the night. At first i thought it had to be teenagers drunk out of their minds dancing around a bonfire somewhere but i quickly realized it was the coyotes. In all likelihood, they had caught dinner. I thought about what the sellers had said, about the coyotes eating the sheep. I looked over at Sili, her eyes wide with terror. I realized suddenly, she was probably smaller than a sheep. If they could take down sheep, they could take down Sili. I began leaving Sili inside when i did chores close to sundown and if i heard the coyotes at a distance, i put her inside and went back out to finish alone. One night i had worked at three different facilities. I had spent over 12 hours working. I was sleep deprived and hungry. I’d had to pee for several hours. And the following morning was trash pick up day, so i had to get the can out of the shed, drag it across the property, open the gate, and take it to the side of the road at the intersection. The trash can had wheels. As it rolled over the rocks and dirt it made a lot of noise and it filled my ears. I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. I was about halfway through the yard when all of a sudden, loud and clear as day, i heard a howl. I looked around. It was overcast. There was no moon to see by. There was nothing but impenatrable darkness staring back at me. I strained my ears to listen. I couldn’t tell what was wind moving the tree branches or paws in the grass. There was another howl, to the other side of me. There were at least two coyotes nearbye. I thought about leaving the trash can in the yard, but, what would we do with the trash? If it wasn’t at the corner, IWS wouldn’t pick it up in the morning. I unfastened the holster for my machete on my belt and continued towards the gate. The howling rang in my ears and i kept thinking that i was moving in the wrong direction…away from the house. I thought, “at least Sili is inside, thank God.” I drug the trashcan to the corner of the intersection and set it in front of the gate. Then i started back in the direction of the howling. As i walked alongside the fence on the outside of my property i thought i could hear what sounded like a dog walking along the inside of the fence but i was sure there was a possibility my tired fearful mind was playing tricks on me. The howling stopped. As i closed and chained the gate there was only silence. I walked slowly and purposefully across the yard. I rested my hand on my machete until i got to the porch steps. I looked out into the darkness. I could see nothing. I opened the door and stepped inside. Sili was beyond happy to see me. I think she feared me captured or eaten or something. She wagged her tail back and forth and laid at my feet licking the air as she did when she was nervous. It stormed later that night. As tired as i was, i didn’t sleep. The coyotes were becoming too comfortable with our property. We needed another dog. A big dog; one who would bark at coyotes. Bigger than a sheep maybe. I wondered exactly how big a sheep was up close.

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