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Dances with Coyotes

A true story, by guest author: Deborah Dobson It was a late summer mid-afternoon and time for my dog Nora and I to go for our usual walk...

Though it was still warm during the day, at night I could feel the first hints of the coming Fall in northern Arizona. Our house was in a secluded neighborhood that adjoined another small group of houses and all of it was surrounded by acres of beautiful Forest Service land. Though we lived only a 10-minute drive from downtown West Sedona, it often felt as if we were out in the middle of nowhere. I loved the fact that we could be at Oak Creek within 30 minutes of leaving our back door and that we often saw lots of wildlife including rabbits, javalina, birds and deer when we went on our walks and hikes.

Nora and I always started our day with a hike, and thanks to the riding stable down the road, we could choose from a number of pretty trails to explore and enjoy, all of which were easily accessible from our house. I made a point of varying our route each morning and treasured that time we spent together. Nora truly was the perfect trail dog: she would excitedly run ahead of me in joyous pursuit of new scents, and then circle back to check in. Even when I couldn't see her, I could hear her tags jingling in the distance, and I was thrilled that she always came back voluntarily on her own.

My neighbor and her wolf-like dog Comet sometimes joined us out on the trails and if Paula couldn't call him back when she had to go home to get ready for work, I would tell her not to worry, knowing that when she and Comet had run their fill, I could simply call Nora and the two of them would return with tails slowly wagging and tongues lolling. Then the three of us would walk back to Paula's house where I'd shut Comet in the fenced backyard where he had plenty of water and shade. At lunchtime Paula would come home, bring him inside and gently scold him for taking off again.

My relationship with Nora hadn't always been so seamless and easy, though. Several years earlier, I'd started casually stopping by our local shelter, thinking about adopting a dog. For years, I'd run a successful pet sitting business but sorely missed having that special bond with a dog of my own.

I wanted a dog who I could walk and hike with off leash, who responded completely to my verbal requests and who wanted to be with me enough that she would never run away. I wanted to be able to exchange a look with her that both of us knew meant an upcoming ride in the car, long before I got out my keys. I wanted to be able to speak quietly to her and have her respond happily and willingly. I wanted to give her what she wanted – as much freedom as possible – so she would want to give me what I wanted – her safety and happiness.

I'll never forget the day I first met Nora. I was in town running errands with no plans of checking in at the shelter to look at the dogs when a voice in my head said, “Go to the shelter – now!” It was so commanding that I obeyed and when I saw her in the run, pacing and obviously unhappy, I almost gasped. There was a dog who looked almost exactly like my beloved Sheena, who I had rescued from a busy street many years before. I stared at her for a long time and I knew there was no way she would let me come in to visit her – she was far too agitated and upset. So I went

into the run next to hers where there was a puppy and sat down with him – I wanted this beautiful, nervous dog to know that I was trustworthy. I glanced at her from time to time as I played with the puppy, and started to make plans for my next visit. It took me over a week to decide to adopt her because even to my then untrained eye, I knew she had some fairly serious issues.

In the beginning, I made many mistakes in my relationship with Nora - including giving her away - but amazingly, she forgave me and loved me wholeheartedly in spite of myself! No matter whether I'd been gone for 20 minutes or two hours, she always greeted me with what I called her “whirly dance”, an ecstatic bouncy circling accompanied by whines and kisses and a huge smile on her beautiful face. I loved Nora so much and delighted in her unfailing willingness to please me. In return, I let her have as much freedom as I could, as long as I felt she was safe.

So, on that lazy summer afternoon, she and I headed out, following our road toward the nearby neighborhood where we would eventually circle around to head back home. As usual, Nora was off leash and busily sniffing all the new scents by the side of the road since our last visit.

Suddenly she dashed off toward an overgrown grassy area as she often did when she saw a rabbit. In those days, she chased every Cottontail she came across with tremendous gusto and determination. And although she was very fast, she never caught one, for which I was thankful. Looking back, I think it was more of a game for her, and I figured it gave both of them a good burst of aerobic exercise. But this time, she didn’t return quickly as she normally did and I wondered what was keeping her. Shading my eyes, I peered toward the field where she’d headed and strained to catch a glimpse of her. The sun was low in the sky in that direction and it was difficult to see anything.

The grass there was about two feet high and the color of wheat and Nora, who looked like a small, scaled down golden-colored German Shepherd, blended in well. By now a few minutes had passed and I was beginning to consider going over there myself when suddenly I caught sight of something moving and it was definitely larger than a rabbit.

I stood there staring in amazement watching Nora and a large coyote romping in the grass like puppies! I couldn’t believe my eyes – normally Nora was very shy when meeting a new dog for the first time and yet there she was, completely relaxed, acting as though she’d known this coyote all her life.

But soon my delight was replaced with a heart-lurching fear: what if the coyote had been sent out as bait? I’d heard many frightening stories about groups of hungry coyotes lurking in the background waiting to attack an unsuspecting dog who’d been distracted by a lone coyote who seemingly just wanted to play.

All my protective instincts told me to run over there and chase that coyote away – immediately!

Instead, I forced myself to stop and listen and look again. As the seconds passed, I didn’t hear any growling or other signs of aggression. And I didn’t see any other coyotes lurking nearby.

Slowly I relaxed and just stood there, realizing that I was witnessing something rare, something that not many humans get to see. A shy dog and a wild coyote were simply enjoying each other’s company.

Time seemed to stop as I watched the two leap and jump and wriggle in complete joy. I honestly don’t know how long I stood there transfixed, but I will remember it always.

Then, when the two finished playing, Nora came trotting back to me as she always did after one of her little adventures, a large, contented grin on her face. I bent down and gave her a heartfelt hug and a kiss, still stunned by what I’d just seen. I glanced back at the field, wondering if the coyote was still there but it had disappeared, in that quiet melting way coyotes have.

As we continued on our way back home, I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude and peace. I’d been blessed that day with an incredible gift. Nora had come to me filled with fear, having been badly abused as a puppy and it had taken about two years of intense rehabilitative work to socialize her enough so I felt comfortable just taking her out in public. Yet, that summer afternoon, she had met a wild coyote for the first time and showed absolutely no fear whatsoever. In fact, she’d had fun – pure unadulterated fun!

During the many wonderful years she lived with me, I’d given Nora many endearing nicknames and that day as we walked home together, the two of us grinning, I added a new one: Dances With Coyotes.

Author's Note: This is a true story. Nora and I literally walked and hiked thousands of miles together in the time I was privileged to live with her and, most of the time, she was off-leash. However, I knew that all I had to do was call her – once – and she would be back at my side. So, please use common sense and caution with your beloved pet – unless you know without a doubt that he or she will come when you call, do not walk or hike off-leash. Along the same lines, always err on the side of caution when your dog could encounter any wild animal.

Copyright 2007 by

Deborah Dobson About the author: Deborah (Debby) Dobson has been an avid dog lover most of her life. She’s had the privilege of working with and learning from dozens of dogs for more than 25 years as both a pet sitter and behaviorist and sincerely values their cheerful, honest friendships. Please contact her at: with any questions or comments.


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