I refuse to use the contrived term “fake news.” But a news report I was involved in, which aired last week on a Boston TV station, was unreal.
I was contacted by a reporter for the station. He had read my Paradise Diaries blog post of June 2015 about the arrival of coywolves on Cape Cod. He asked to interview me about these new neighbors. As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I was happy to help.
I referred him to coywolf guru Dr. Jonathan Way, a Cape native who has published two books and more than 40 professional publications, and currently lives and works here. I also forwarded several Internet links to sources I had used in researching my blog post. He still wanted me for an on-camera, and I agreed.
Coywolf expert Jonathan Way: Dogs are more dangerous than coyotes.
His first stop the next morning would be the local wildlife hospital, after which he would meet with me. I prepared speaking points for the interview in order to focus my thoughts into short sound bites.
I waited until four o’clock, when the house was darkening and it was time to turn on lights and mix a martini. (Cape Cod is so far east that we can make an argument for starting our cocktail hour at four.)
I texted him: “I guess you won’t need an on-camera with me today?”
Ten minutes later came his response: “Oh my gosh. I am SO SORRY. I got caught up running around the mid cape trying to get interviews and I failed to get back to you . . .”
Disappointment became exasperation when I watched his TV report at six o’clock.
The piece began with a still image of a small, sad-eyed dog. Its owner described how her pooch had left the house and was killed by a coywolf. How did she know? Did she witness it? The question wasn’t asked.
Despite comments from two Cape Wildlife Center staffers that coywolves can exist with humans quite nicely, the reporter returned to the dog owner for the last word—a warning that the next victim “could be a child or a human.”
The dog owner: The next victim could be “a child or a human.”
This was tabloid coverage that bent over backwards to present coywolves as zombie mongrels that now walk among us.
If he had checked the material I had forwarded, if he had contacted Dr. Way, if he had talked with me, he would have been able to cast a story based on the facts:
- Coywolves are not dangerous to humans. The US records almost five million dog bites annually—versus three coyote bites in all North America.
- Coywolves are an entirely new kind of animal, an occurrence that one scientist called “evolution in action.”
- We created them by decimating northeastern forests, thereby ridding the land of wolves and creating a predator-free environment for western coyotes to migrate to New England through Quebec, mating on the way with protected wolves north of the border.
- Coywolves are noble creatures that mate for life, live as a family in a pack, and are smart enough to adapt to circumstances and thrive.
- They eat rodents, checking the spread of Lyme disease.
- Despite Massachusetts hunters being allowed to kill an unlimited number of coywolves for a $30 license, researchers like Dr. Way must apply for multiple permits from the state, often waiting months or years to simply study these creatures.
The facts draw a picture of a magnificent new presence on our planet, and tell a far different story from one dog owner’s uninformed and sensationalist speculation.
My newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: A Hundred Wanderings, is available in Kindle and paperback editions at https://www.amazon.com/Saints-Poets-Maybe-Hundred-Wanderings/dp/0990905039/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8