By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Louie, a 25 pound, nearly six-year-old dog, was fatally injured by a coyote in Steiner Ranch on the trails near River Heights Overlook on June 22.
A member of the Friedman family, Louie was running with owner Hampton Friedman that day as they had over 400 times previously in the four years the family has lived in Steiner Ranch.
Friedman explained that he did not worry that Louie was not on a leash, because, “Louie can walk across Quinlan Park,” the large road that runs the length of Steiner Ranch. “Louie knows Walk and Don’t Walk signals. Louie has gone thousands and thousands of miles,” on trails in Texas and throughout the country. He was also snake trained.
“Louie’s never been on a leash. Ever… He was like the neighborhood dog and everybody knew him and would come by and see him,” said Friedman.
A fatal encounter
That day was not their first encounter with a coyote on the trails. The previous Saturday, as they completed a run near that same trailhead, Friedman saw a coyote that may have been the same or a similar looking one. He observed that coyote at a distance of maybe 100 feet. The coyote barked at Friedman and his dog as they left the trail.
On their next run, Louie took off through the trees barking as soon as they entered the woods, though Friedman could not see at what.
“Louie was running through the trees and I could hear him a ways away barking, and then I heard one (yelp).”
That turned out to be the sound of Louie being bitten. Friedman ran into the woods after him and found his dog walking slowly toward him with a coyote about 20 feet behind. Friedman threw some rocks until the coyote left.
Friedman thinks Louie was able to escape the coyote due to the fact that, “He’s only 25 pounds but he’s all muscle. So he got away… so he could walk.”
Still, “When I picked him up he was having a really tough time.” Friedman explained. “I didn’t even see anything until I looked at him very closely. But he was having such a difficult time breathing. He was going into shock.”
It turned out that Louie had four puncture wounds, though only two were visible.
Friedman’s wife, Rebecca, is an ER doctor and was able to immediately recognize the symptoms of internal bleeding: an increased heart rate, reduced blood pressure, shock and a distended belly.
They drove as quickly as they could to a specialty veterinary practice, where doctors failed to recognize the significance of Louie’s symptoms. After two and a half hours of observation followed by emergency surgery at the vet’s office, Louie died of his wounds.
His death was a shock not just to the Friedmans and their three children but to their whole neighborhood. “The kids were crying. The parents were crying. One little girl was like, ‘Who’s going to watch our neighborhood?’ Louie literally knew who was supposed to be in the neighborhood and who was not supposed to be… the whole neighborhood loves that dog.”
For Friedman, it’s hard to imagine that Steiner Ranch is more dangerous than the other wild environments the dog had already safely navigated, like the Louisiana bayou.
But it seems incidents like these may be on the rise in Steiner and surrounding areas, where development means less habitat for native wildlife and more crowding of those displaced animals.
Another dog stalked
Victor LaRocca, a friend of the Friedman family, took his dog Zulu for a jog on the greenbelt trails the day after the Friedman’s dog was attacked.
He also had his dog off-leash as they ran around 10 a.m. That day, LaRocca was hyper-aware of the presence of coyotes in the area and made a lot of noise as he arrived to run on the trails near Appaloosa Chase Drive.
His fears proved to be well-founded. “After about ten minutes — and I’m still looking, I have not forgotten about (coyotes)… (Zulu)’s ten feet behind me… here comes this (coyote) barrelling out of the woods and is about to ambush her.”
LaRocca bellowed loudly and charged as he saw the coyote approach his dog. Still the coyote got within two feet of the dog before it finally retreated. As it left, it stopped to turn and face them and started barking as had the coyote Friedman and his dog faced in their first encounter.
Then Zulu took off after the retreating coyote, running about 50 feet into the woods before coming back in response to LaRocca’s calls.
He put Zulu on her leash and headed for the trailhead to leave. They were nearly out of the woods when the coyote reappeared at a distance of about 40 feet. LaRocca threw rocks at it until it once again fled.
Said LaRocca, still shocked by his encounter and Freidman’s, “This is crazy… If I hadn’t been there this thing would have taken out my dog, no doubt. Like if I’d been a little further up and not really paying attention to her.”
He understands that coyotes in the area are squeezed for space. “It’s just crowded. It’s not their fault,” he acknowledged, though he would still rather see the coyote who stalked him killed.
For Friedman, whose family and community are grieving the loss of Louie, he emphasized that, “I’m not mad at the coyote. It was his territory. We’re in his space.”
In the wake of the attack, his larger concern is with the need for appropriate medical care in the event of this kind of injury. “If anything comes out of it, I would like to see a higher standard of care in the medical community.”
As an ever-increasing number of humans and wildlife learn to share Hill Country, veterinarians may need to be prepared for more injuries of this nature.