A blind coyote that gave birth to four pups in captivity and became a social media sensation was euthanized on Wednesday by California wildlife officials after they determined the animal was suffering and would not recover.
Four months ago, someone shot the coyote in the head, leaving it blinded in both eyes. The wounded predator wandered for weeks in the Santa Ynez Valley until it tumbled 30 feet into an empty rock-and-mortar reservoir on the outskirts of this Santa Barbara county town best known for its Danish-themed shops and as the location of the wine-themed movie "Sideways."
The coyote was huddled in a shadowed crevice, emaciated, dehydrated and bleeding when Julia Di Seino, a licensed wildlife rescuer, got a call and raced to the scene.
The animal, Di Seino said, was having a heart attack. She administered chest compressions and a shot of epinephrine to kick its heart back into rhythm.
On March 23, while recuperating at Di Seino's Animal Rescue Team facility, the coyote gave birth to four male pups. A conservationist suggested naming it "Angel."
"I didn't know whether to cry in sadness or for joy," Di Seino, 55, said at the time.
Angel went on to nurse and raise the pups, which in three months will be mature enough to be released in the wild.
Her survival story attracted worldwide attention on Facebook, Instagram and in news reports, and unleashed a flood of financial donations from well-wishers for the nonprofit Animal Rescue Team, which runs on a shoestring budget and volunteer work.
It also helped Di Seino to persuade the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to allow her to continue caring for the animal at the facility, which does not have a special state permit to keep a coyote on the premises indefinitely, or have easy access to a certified wildlife veterinarian.
Angel was among dozens of orphaned, injured or cruelly abused animals – bobcats, foxes, deer, squirrels, owls, geese, tortoises, lizards, snakes and an occasional mountain lion – kept in the facility's networks of wire cages, pens and terrariums.
But Di Seino said she developed a particularly strong cross-species bond with the ailing coyote she introduced to visitors earlier this week as "a tough mama" and "a little sensation."
She had hoped, she said, that Angel would become a surrogate mother for other young coyotes brought to the facility, or live out her life in an educational center elsewhere.
The story of the coyote's survival touched people who heard it, bringing needed attention to the problem of wild animals that are wounded as humans encroach on what had been wild land, Di Seino said.
"That's why I've been spoiling her rotten with filet mignon," she added.
As Angel's health worsened in recent weeks, Di Seino and others began weighing the merits of survival vs. suffering.
In an interview on Monday, Di Seino said she had made the gut-wrenching decision to put Angel down the following day.
"She's done her job," she said, fighting back tears. "I don't want to put her down, but I don't want her to suffer."
On Tuesday morning, however, Di Seino said she had changed her mind about euthanizing the coyote after watching her "navigate so well" through knee-high weeds in a 1/4-acre pen at the facility.
State wildlife authorities decided it was time to intervene and conduct a formal evaluation of the animal's health.
On Wednesday morning, Di Seino surrendered the coyote to state wardens and an independent wildlife veterinarian, who determined that the coyote was suffering and would never be healthy enough to release into the wild.
The coyote was euthanized on Wednesday afternoon at a licensed wildlife care facility, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan said.
"It's a sad story," Hughan said, "but it's over now; the animal is out of its misery."
News of the animal's death elicited emotional reactions from supporters including Fauna Tomlinson, a spokeswoman for the advocacy nonprofit group Project Coyote.
"Angel will be remembered as a living emblem of the power of motherhood and survival," Tomlinson said, "and of the horrors human beings wreak on animals that share this planet."
Conservationist Tom O'Key, who came up with the idea of naming the coyote Angel after learning about its rescue, said, "I was hoping for a happily-ever-after ending – but that was not to be."
"I feel sorry for Julia, who worked so hard on behalf of this courageous animal," he said. "I'm happy that Angel's puppies get to go on. I also applaud Fish and Wildlife for giving everybody a chance to do the best they could."
As for the blind coyote, he said, "I suppose we can say she's in heaven now."