Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Ginger, the Labradoodle, was killed on Smuggler Mountain last week (may her wait at the Rainbow Bridge be without sorrow), and suddenly the coyotes are being excoriated for being coyotes.

Many years ago, Mary Eshbaugh Hayes took a wonderful photograph of children watching a herd of sheep move past her house on Bleeker Street. It evokes memories of idyllic times in Aspen, an era most of us claim to desperately miss. What’s not shown in the photograph is the untold back story, the tragedy that followed the sheep through the surrounding mountainsides.

He was a retired government trapper, slight of frame with the intense, lustrous eyes of a man who knows his way around wildness. We sat transfixed in the living room as he entrusted us with his story, even though we’d only come to look at an accordion his wife had for sale. “It wasn’t that long ago, it doesn’t seem,” he offered as he rolled a smoke. “I’d lead a couple horses up to Little Annie Basin, shoot one, cut its belly open and lace it with strychnine. Kill the other one somewhere up Hunter Creek and doctor it with strychnine, too. The U.S. government tried hard to kill those damned sheep-eatin’ coyotes.”

It’s difficult to judge men like that, but it is incumbent upon each of us to question the hysteria, irrational fear and ignorance that prompt our own government to create such programs. Last week’s blathering bleat, from a man over in Eagle who removes “nuisance-animals,” is typical of the illogical fear tactics used by the less-enlightened to justify eradication of wolves and coyotes – “Is a child next?” As if any right-minded person could possibly ignore that ignorant and painful peal.

Speaking of nuisance animals, let’s look at the reality of the situation. Dogs off-leash compete with the coyotes for field mice, voles and other goodies in the Smuggler area. What clear-thinking coyote wouldn’t call the steady stream of free-roaming dogs on Smuggler a “damned nuisance?” Or, a convenient meal?

In spite of an attempt by some in the media (and even some who live here) to paint Aspen as another Disneyland, it’s still a town in the middle of wilderness. The rides here aren’t necessarily sterile, safe or guaranteed, and a walk with your dog is to take a chance on interaction with whatever’s out there on any given day. If you want, use no leash or let him/her drag the leash behind, but be prepared for the consequences.

The implication that coyotes are somehow “bad actors” is to miss the point. According to quotes in The Aspen Times: “These coyotes were working together. They clearly had a plan.” “But these coyotes are wild, they’re dangerous, and they hunt and kill so they can eat.” “. . . dangerous to the community at large.” Kudos to the coyotes. They survived the government trappers.

Don’t get me wrong, I have absolute sympathy for Ginger’s owners. My daughter’s dog, Earl, was killed by one of my horses several weeks ago, and I clearly know the heartache. But, so far I have not felt emboldened to call out the American Quarter Horse or American Paint Horse Associations, bemoaning the plethora of “dangerous” kicking and stomping horses in our valley. To what end?

As someone said, “You could have kept Earl out of the pasture,” to which the only reasonable response is, “You could keep your dogs off Smuggler Mountain.”

It all boils down to personal responsibility. The coyote takes care of himself, despite some depressing odds. In turn, we can take care of our pets or let them fend for themselves, but we shouldn’t complain when it doesn’t always come out in our favor.

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