Oreo, aka Coyote’s Bane.
My wife is afraid of the family dog, a Shih Tzu-Jack Russell named Oreo who arrived 10 years ago after our neighbor rescued Oreo’s pregnant mother and my eight-year-old daughter got a look at the new puppies across the street. My wife is afraid that the dog will slip out the front door and snap at a delivery person (this has happened), that the dog will fill our carpet with fleas come summer (this has also happened), that the dog will nip at our grabby newborn (this had better not happen). On a more existential level, she is afraid that the dog will damn her. That at her judgment, God will acknowledge all her manifest and manifold goodness, but then point out that she refused to love this little creature He placed in her care. She will plead, noting how much she endured and tolerated (“I was told he would be an outside dog!”), but to no avail. Off she’ll go to a special circle of hell where she’ll have to walk Oreo for all eternity, forever leashed to the cause of her downfall.
So there was a curious tension in the air last Sunday night when a coyote showed up at the edge of our yard and started howling from the shadows in that high coyote squeal. My daughter opened the front door to check on the racket. Oreo stepped out onto the stoop and stiffened before bellowing in return and charging into the dark. Oreo is small. The coyote was large. Nextdoor notifications from our neighborhood pegged him at 50 pounds. What’s more, coyotes are supposed to be clever hunters, sometimes sending one member of the pack out to lure prey to its doom.
On the one hand, few people would wish a violent death upon a family pet, beloved or otherwise. On the other, nature is red in tooth and claw, and Oreo had felt the call of the wild. He was guarding his own, even as we stood in amazement at the absurdity of it. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods?
We stood, the lot of us, gazing into the night, wondering — until the screaming started. And it was a kind of screaming, full of twisting, desperate violence. My 11-year-old burst into tears; I burst into a run. I was halfway across my neighbor’s yard when Oreo came to meet me, shaken but unscathed.