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Beware of the postpartum coyotes of Southern Arizona

Summer is here. Well, it's spring, really, but in this perverse climate, real spring only lasts one month—it's called April. By May, the temperatures start inching up; everyone goes into instant denial that it's this friggin hot already; and people gird their loins in fear of the whopping electric bills they're anticipating from those pirates over at Tucson Electric Power.

When I say "everyone," I mean everyone except for the real dumb ones. Their denial drives them to drown their terror in alcohol and, in the case of a fellow up in Phoenix, go out and pet a rattlesnake.

I'm not making this up. It was on the news. Apparently, rattlesnakes don't like to be petted.

And rattlesnakes aren't the only beasties that come out at this time of year. Remember that disappearing bee disease a couple of years ago? Well, that's not really what it's called. I don't remember what it was called. The point is, I know where all those bees are: Here. Palo verde trees are full of them. I don't know whether the honeybees bred with our own bloodthirsty Africanized variety—maybe they thought bad boys were sexy—or if the honeybees were raped and pillaged by the Africanized variety, but whatever happened has resulted in what can only be described as "unusually testy" bees. If you get too close to their hives, they fly into your head, bonking you in warning. If this happens, take note: They're not blind. They're warning you.

But it's not just the bees and the rattlesnakes that are the problem. It's coyotes with postpartum depression.

The other day, I was walking my dogs: Lady, Macho and Sissy. Sissy has no mind of his own, no prey drive, and since his legs are only about 4 inches long, he follows the rest of us about 10 feet behind. He's the most harmless dog ever, looks like a four legged Cousin Itt, and mostly trawls for old french fries and bits of fast food thrown out car windows by teenagers.

Macho was pulling at the leash to go forward, while Lady was politely taking a pee when, all of the sudden, a fearful yelping erupted. I turned to see a coyote attacking poor Sissy.

Instinctively, I let Macho off the leash; Macho not only chased said coyote away from Sissy before any real damage was inflicted, but followed the coyote behind the houses and down the wash, where a fearful cacophony of yelping, barking and howling arose. Macho came running back, coyote in pursuit, and as the coyote retreated, Macho resumed his attack. This went on for a minute or two, with roles reversing at regular intervals, until the coyote triumphed in sending Macho back from whence he came.

Then a friggin' homeowner came out. Just my luck! I ran into the only person in Tucson other than me who understands a damn thing about the natural history of coyotes. "She's probably got pups in the wash." He probably thought I was siccing my dog on the coyote for fun.

"That's fine," I said, "but she attacked my dog for no reason. What was I supposed to do?" He and I talked for a minute, with him turning his head and whispering endearments to soothe the coyote, who was still standing there, yipping in fury and outrage.

"It's OK, baby," he says. "Go back to your children."

He thought she was the victim. But I know differently: She's had this free and easy life eating rabbits, trash and domestic animals, while running with her pack all hours of the night. Then all of the sudden, she gets knocked up, and a few months later squeezes out seven or eight squalling puppies. Gone are all night prowls, the moonlight runs. These days, life consists of sitting in a hole in the side of a dried-up riverbed trying to keep these pups, who never shut up or stop eating—her teats are so sore that she can barely stand it—from getting shot by bored Bubbas, eaten by predators or run over by cars.

Life has gotten pretty routine. And damn it, she's pissed.

While we were standing there talking, that homeowner feeling her pain, I was seeing something else entirely in her eyes: She wished Macho would come at her again, and maybe even again, so she could give him a real ass-whooping. She was having the time of her life. Because in her darkest moments, she wonders if the good times are gone forever.

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