Tracking the mild coyote

In the last few weeks, a buzz has developed around a weblog called the Daily Coyote. It features the comments and photographs of Shreve Stockton, a 30-year-old woman living in a one-room cabin in an undisclosed "town of 300 people" in Wyoming. The focus of the blog is Charlie, a 9-month-old coyote that Stockton took in when he was orphaned shortly after birth. Feeding him goat's milk from syringes and then baby bottles (he promptly chewed the nipples off), Stockton has raised him from a tiny fluff ball that cried unless he could sleep in her bed to a long-snouted, giant-eared, 25-pound almost adult coyote that still sleeps in her bed. Oh, and her cat, Eli, sleeps there too.

People are seriously loving this site. Stockton's photos are beautiful, but, more important, they capitalize on a triumvirate of cultural fascinations: blogging, living off the grid (Stockton has electricity and DSL but no running water in the winter) and, perhaps most viscerally and ridiculously, having a wild animal as a pet.

Stockton's photos of Charlie, which she has made into a 2008 wall calendar and e-mails daily to subscribers for a $5 monthly fee, show him not only roaming the tall grass outside her cabin but sprawled on his back in the bed, lying in Stockton's lap and snuggling, wrestling and peacefully snoozing with the cat.

For those of us living in a high-stress, congested city that also happens to be overrun with these intriguing, pet-killing creatures, the Daily Coyote is part escape fantasy, part children's book, part disaster waiting to happen. No wonder it's getting 30,000 hits a day.

I'm one of those people who's wanted her own sea otter since age 3, and, at least twice a day, I seriously consider chucking it all and moving to some Wi-Fi-equipped shack on some mythical prairie. So I called Stockton to find out what exactly she was up to. Actually, she called me, after I e-mailed her, because she didn't want anyone to have her phone number lest they track her down and harm Charlie.

"Coyotes are hated around here," she told me (her blog mentions an annual coyote killing contest in which whoever shoots the most in one day wins $1,800). "I love that people are seeing my work and seeing what Charlie has to share, but I don't want any potential publicity to affect him."

Charlie wears a collar, walks on a leash, rides in the front seat of Stockton's truck and has a diet consisting mostly of dog food, elk meat and raw organic cheddar cheese. If he encounters another coyote, he tends to sidle up to Stockton for protection. When he hears coyotes howling at night, he doesn't much respond. As for humans, he's afraid of just about all of them except Stockton and a mysterious neighbor she refers to as "M.C." or "my cowboy," and who, according to her blog, is "a coyote expert employed by the federal government." This, she told me, was sheer coincidence and also a great help, considering that she's a city girl, originally from Seattle, whose tenure as an outdoorswoman began two years ago when she rode her Vespa from San Francisco to New York and fell in love with Wyoming along the way.

Stockton, who works as a ranch hand and a substitute teacher, emphasizes that she has few illusions that Charlie will stay with her indefinitely. She says she would never have interfered with nature had there been any alternative.

"I've received a few negative e-mails, but it's hard to feel anything about them because I had to make a choice," she said. She could take him in or help him out of his misery. "When it got to the point where he could have gone back into the wild, it was so obvious that he was so attached to me and M.C. and the cat that it would have been cruel to force him out. ... Mating season is in February, so that will be the most indicative time."

Here in L.A., where fires this year have driven a lot of wildlife out of the hills and into heavily populated areas, coyotes are an abundant resource. In my neighborhood, where I'm pretty sure the coyotes are now receiving mail, a local animal rescue group went so far as to organize a meeting with an animal control officer, who reminded us to carry noisemakers because wild animals should never lose their natural fear of humans. Animal control's motto: "I scare because I care."

It's hard to argue with that. But when it comes to Charlie's cult status on the Web, our uneasy coexistence with urban coyotes (they roam New York and Chicago as well as Western cities) is much of the reason we're so spellbound. The more we displace them and realize it, the more the idea of inviting them into our homes represents a magical kind of peace offering. That's an illusion, of course, but Charlie makes it seem just a little bit real.

As for Eli the cat, he's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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