Her name was Maxine. She was an Eastern coyote living in the city of Erie, PA. Specifically she made her home in the Erie Cemetery, a 75 acre resting place right in the middle of the city.
They (whoever the ubiquitous “they” may be) say that you should never name wild animals. Why do they say that? Various reasons. it anthropomorphises them. Turns them into pets.
Humanising a wild animal is wrong, correct? Once we start ascribing feelings and emotions to critters (especially nuisance critters like coyotes) we make it more difficult to kill them.
A few years back I called Clarke Kuebler, the general manager of the Erie Cemetery. The news of Maxine taking up residence in the city cemetery had just broken. Nobody seemed to know quite what to do. There was talk of hiring the local nuisance trapper to set some traps . This concerned me because I knew that animals trapped within the city limits have to be euthanized. Seems it’s the law here in PA.
Before I go any further I honestly don’t know if Maxine met her death at the hands of our local nuisance trapper. It’s absolutely conjecture. But conjecture based on probability. You know what else? I’m not really sure the trapper, if indeed he was the guy that ultimately brought about Maxine’s demise, is even the bad guy in this whole story. Seriously. I hate what he does but I’ve met him. Had conversations with him. He is respectful towards animals. I gave one of his business cards to friend of mine who had a terminally ill cat. A few days later the trapper euthanized the cat with empathy, kindness and compassion.
So truly I am not villainizing the trapper. He may very well have been the one that had to be called to tie up the loose ends in all this. To end the work that all the actual villains put into motion. I don’t know.
So where was I? Oh yes, the day I found out that a coyote was roaming the Erie Cemetery. One of my favorite places to walk. It was reported that traps had been set. I called Clarke Kuebler. I asked him if he was sick of fielding calls about the coyote. He was amiable and said no. He was patient. In our brief conversation I tried (and still try) to see where he was coming from. Certainly he felt pressured to keep cemetery visitors safe. “So many of them are elderly.” he told me. “And people who bring their children.”
I guess he felt he would be blamed if the cemetery dingo suddenly went on a baby eating spree. So he called the trapper. I am not sure what happened with that first trapping attempt. Maxine remained in the cemetery for about 6 more years so either she eluded the trapper or Clarke called the whole thing off.
Shortly after that phone call I saw her for the first time. I was walking in the cemetery when I saw a rabbit dart out from behind a gravestone. In that very second I knew she would be right behind. And she was. I was taken aback at her beauty. Her gracefulness. How very much she looked like a wolf. I held my breath without realizing it. Unfortunately she had flushed out the rabbit only to have it quickly taken away from her by a red tailed hawk who swept down and grabbed her prey. She seemed to take it in good stride and trotted off and out of sight. She wasn’t the only predator who lived there.
A Facebook group was formed. Many people wanted to protect her. I joined this group to see the amazing photographs and commiserate with others who loved her as much as I did. It was an active forum with members sharing stories, sightings, experiences and lots of beautiful pictures.
As nice as these stories were I was already getting a little concerned about the coyote’s safety. It seemed that Maxine was pretty acclimated to humans. Well of course the eastern coyote is an animal that lives its life in close proximity to people. They are urbanized. They also average about 10% domestic dog DNA which leads some researchers to believe they are more easily accustomed to human presence.
The years went by and the group remained an enjoyable way for me stay up to date on Maxine. Then in early Spring of 2017 someone, reportedly “a lady with a pitbull”, said that Maxine followed her and tried to attack her dog. “No way!” said several of the more active members of the Facebook group.
They said that Maxine had never once in 7 years been aggressive. Indeed so many people would look up from tending their loved ones graves to see Maxine quietly watching them. Serene and unconcerned. Many called her “the guardian of the dead”.
Reports of aggression continued. “There’s a male now.” said some members of the forum. I remembered that a few members had mentioned seeing the male a year before in May of 2016.
This caused some consternation within the group. Some swore that they saw the male with Maxine. “He’s bigger.” they said. “He’s darker. He doesn’t live in the cemetery with her. He comes and goes.”
“Absolutely not!” said one of the more vocal members, a man who walked his dog in the cemetery daily and almost always saw Maxine. “There is no male!” he adamantly declared. Other regular visitors agreed. No male, just Maxine.
And still the aggression reports continued. Some said it was because Maxine had babies. Group members to this day never saw Maxine’s alleged pups. None of the regular members believed that Maxine had ever been pregnant. Those who watched and photographed her on an almost daily basis had no reason to believe that she had bred with the mysterious seldom seen male.
But Clarke Kuebler said otherwise. According to him, cemetery workers had seen the babies. By this time in our narrative the previously affable Mr. Kuebler was becoming rather testy about the whole coyote issue. Emotions were also running high within the Facebook group.
All of us in the group wanted to rally to her defense. But I just felt sick. I knew in my heart that they were never going to let Maxine continue her life as a mother.
Various members of our group contacted the cemetery. Some contacted wolf sanctuaries, the Erie Zoo, the local animal shelters and every wildlife rehabber in Erie county and the counties beyond. I called the local office of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. People like myself have to be very careful when dealing with Northwestern Pennsylvania Game Commission employees. They are touchy when they believe they could possibly be dealing with a tree hugging PETA weirdo.
The gentleman who answered the phone was evasive. I said “You’re going to trap and kill the coyote in the Erie Cemetery, aren’t you?” More evasion. “You have trucks there right now.” I told him. “I just drove by.” Even more evasion. He eventually confirmed the trucks. Well, duh, I had just seen them 20 minutes earlier. He also confirmed the Game Commission’s awareness of the “problem”. I pushed a little harder. He said maybe he could have a supervisor call me. I declined, telling him I already knew everything I needed to know. I knew exactly how they were going to solve the problem. My heart sank and the sick feeling returned.
Meanwhile Maxine’s Facebook group redoubled their efforts. Some became concerned that Maxine was becoming too used to people because she was being fed. At last our group and Clarke Kuebler agreed on something. He was quoted stating his concern that visitors were feeding the coyote. I had hoped that wasn’t true but unfortunately for poor Maxine, it was.
Around this time many group members started circling their wagons around Maxine. Many were going to the cemetery more often to try to keep an eye on her. One member confronted a woman feeding lunchmeat to Maxine. It seemed that Maxine knew the woman. The member photographed the feeder and shared her picture with the group.
One of the more ardent members of our group plastered the woman’s photograph on as many local Facebook pages as possible. Within hours the woman, a nurse, was recognized, ratted out and publicly shamed. To her credit she owned up to her careless idiocy and apologized. But she had already driven quite a few nails into Maxine’s coffin.
By June of 2017 I had hoped that the Maxine baby rumors would be either quashed or confirmed. Eastern coyote pups typically start to emerge from their dens around mid June. Maxine’s babies never emerged.
By now Clarke had pretty much stopped responding to any queries about Maxine. He made a few comments to the local news outlets, some of whom had taken a mild interest in Maxine’s imminent removal. He spouted much the same stuff he had said 6 years earlier. “Blah blah safety…blah blah working with a trapper. “
I’m conjecturing again but maybe he felt guilty. Some people have told me that the cemetery workers were actually very fond of Maxine and quite sad about the whole situation. If my timeline (and some of the news reports that came out in July) is correct the babies were taken from the den about mid June. Did Mr. Kuebler feel badly about that? Did he know how distressed new mother Maxine would be after returning to her den to find all 3 of her babies gone?
About a month later, in July, all the coyotes, supposedly 5 in total were gone from the cemetery. When it was all over Clarke stepped out of his silence to offer his brief and final words on the subject. Among the statements he offered was the ludicrous claim that he had “no idea what the trapper did with them.” Really Clarke? I believe everything he said except for that one line of bullshit.
I know Maxine is dead. I knew her death was impending a year before it occurred. Am I certain that she and her family ended their lives in a carbon monoxide chamber? No. Just making an educated guess here. If the local nuisance trapper is in fact the guy responsible for the coyotes’ removal from the cemetery, then that is very likely how her death went down. He himself told me that’s how he kills the animals that he traps. Once again we are at the mercy of Pennsylvania state law. All rabies vectors trapped within the city must be killed. The law does not permit release and relocation.
Nevertheless many Erieites were convinced that she and her family were now living elsewhere in peace and freedom. Some still swear to that fact. A lot of people confused the word “removed” with “relocated”.
Wishful thinking on the part of those who do not know the ways of Northwest Pennsylvania’s strong hunting culture. Combine that with America’s pure hatred of coyotes and we really are not looking at a happy ending for Maxine.
If you are not local to Erie then you must know by now that Erie is in Pennsylvania’s northwest. Have you heard James Carville’s quote about Pennsylvania? “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between.” That puts Erie right there in Alabama territory. The first day of hunting season is a holiday here. No kidding. A day off from school and work.
Hunters here hate coyotes. Well I suppose hate is not the right word. Coyotes are detested all across America. The thousands of hunters in Erie and Erie county are obligated to dislike coyotes. Any local hunter will tell you how awful “them yotes” are. All the disgusting and horrible things these wild dogs do. They love to say how coyotes kill multitudes of baby deer. I guess they don’t like the competition.
There is no closed season on coyotes here. That means you can shoot and trap as many as you want whenever you want. Most of Pennsylvania’s huntable wildlife have seasons that come and go but not coyotes. Nothing gets a hunter’s rocks off more than a critter that can be killed year round.
If you want to expand the picture further beyond Erie, then it is fair to say that Americans despise coyotes. We kill about 500,000 of them per year. The minute that white colonists landed here in the states they decided the coyote had to go. Had to be decimated and wiped out forever. Between 1947 and 1956 Americans exterminated 6.5 million coyotes. All with the U.S. government’s help, support, encouragement and payoffs.
I knew all this before I’d ever heard of Maxine. Truthfully I never thought she would have seven full years of freedom living in the cemetery. Maybe Clarke Kuebler and crew deserve some thanks for allowing her those undisturbed 7 years. Maybe they were fond of her too. Perhaps they made a tough decision with heavy hearts and not callous indifference.
I miss her so much. I miss looking into those wise eyes. Now when I try to remember that beautiful soulful expression I see it morphing into one of terror. The fear she must have felt when that metal door slammed shut ending her freedom forever. Terror as she was loaded into the truck that eventually brought her to the carbon monoxide chamber. Now I see her eyes closing as she fights for breath.
There are times when I feel profoundly guilty for the cruel havoc that my species has wreaked upon animals and this is one of them. I believe Maxine deserves an apology.
I am sorry, Maxine. On behalf of my species I am sorry that you were labeled a nuisance. I’m sorry for the many years we have spent trying to decimate your species. I’m sorry we humans decided that you invaded “our” world when in fact your kind were here first. I’m sorry that the actions you took to protect your babies were called aggressive. I’m sorry that we determined you would not be permitted to live out your natural life. I’m sorry that you, your mate and babies had to die. Sorry we could not allow you to be free in our human world. Yes, my species sucks. Rest in peace, beautiful soul.
Darrell Tolbert’s Photography Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/WildlifeNatureAndMorePhotography/
There is a 2018 calendar available with beautiful images of Maxine. https://abstudios.net/shop?olsFocus=false&olsPage=products/2018-maxine-calendar
The local Erie, PA satirical news site did a story about the cemetery coyotes, https://gooferie.com/2017/06/07/pa-game-commission-seeks-to-move-cemetery-coyotes-to/
Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research, http://www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/
If you would like to make a charitable donation to honor Maxine’s memory, this is a good place, http://www.coyoterescue.org/