‘Pet’ coyote may land Oak Harbor family in the doghouse

Above, Jennifer Horn, with her children Grace, 4, and Gavin, 7, in their backyard in rural Oak Harbor. At left, Jennifer gets a kiss  from Kota, a coyote she bottle fed and raised after it was found alone in the woods. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Above, Jennifer Horn, with her children Grace, 4, and Gavin, 7, in their backyard in rural Oak Harbor. At left, Jennifer gets a kiss from Kota, a coyote she bottle fed and raised after it was found alone in the woods.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Life won’t be the same around Jennifer Horn’s house any time soon.

When she steps onto her back porch and stares at the dense woods on her property in rural Oak Harbor, she’ll no longer see a familiar creature emerge when she calls his name.

Whenever Horn would shout, “Come to mama,” a coyote she named Kota would eventually arrive at her feet. Sometimes, it took 5 minutes, other times 10, but he’d always find his way back to her.

Horn would tickle his belly, scratch his mane and put out some dog food.

For nine months, things went on this way, starting with the day he was found alone in the woods, just weeks old, then taken to Horn to be cared for.

“Since day one, he immediately had my heart,” Horn said.

“He was my baby.”

Horn’s emotions are raw this week after Kota was shot in the face with a gun Monday morning.

The coyote is no longer in Horn’s care, and never will be again. Tears in her eyes reveal she’s trying to come to grips with that realization.

When Horn rushed her pet to Best Friend’s Veterinary Center in Oak Harbor Monday afternoon, she signed a release relinquishing any future claim to the wild animal.

She then spent two days wondering if Kota would be euthanized. She was elated to learn he not only would receive care and undergo surgery, but will eventually be transferred to the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim for permanent residency.

“I know it’s best for him,” Horn said. “This is his destiny. I know he’ll be safe. I won’t have to worry about somebody shooting him.”

“My heart’s so happy right now.”

Horn said she doesn’t know her own fate, understanding that possession of a wild animal without a proper permit is not only ill-advised but illegal.

She doesn’t argue that under normal conditions wild animals should be left to be wild. She only contends that her case wasn’t ordinary.

When friends brought her a baby coyote found alone outside a den during a hunting trip near Mount Vernon nine months ago, her motherly instincts took over.

She nursed the pup back to health, feeding him goat’s milk, watching him play with the family cat, Boots, and dragging her children’s toys into the woods.

Eventually, Kota was released on the family’s 10 acres and set off on his own.

He never seemed to roam far, however, and came home when his name was called.

“We wanted to let him be as free and as wild as possible,” Horn said. “He comes back because he knows that it’s his family.”

Family includes her husband Jake Horn and their two young children, Gavin, 7, and Grace, 4.

Gavin said Kota “was pretty fun” but one thing he won’t miss about him was his habit of taking away his things and burying them.

Horn said she talked to her husband about the potential danger of a wild animal being around their children. They made an agreement.

“I told him, ‘If he shows one ounce of aggression toward the kids, he’s gone,’” Horn said. “He never did.”

“Not once.”

Ralph Downes, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer assigned to Whidbey Island, is well acquainted with cases of wild animals turning domestic.

It’s a problem that often leads to the animal’s demise, he warns.

He pointed to a case on Fidalgo Island in recent years in which a 3-year-old “neighborhood” buck hand fed since it was a fawn turned aggressive during rut and chased people and damaged property.

The buck had to be euthanized.

Downes said the same thought applies to coyotes.

"A coyote pup is cute and looks like any puppy,” Downes said. “But when you end up with the end product, you end up with an animal that is half cute and cuddly wanting food and affection but still has the natural wild instincts of fight or flight. The wildness hasn’t been bred out of it.”

“One of the things we want is when I decide to holler or shoo wild animals, I want them to be afraid of me. They become potentially dangerous when they’re not afraid of me.”

In most cases, wild animals that are injured to the point where they can’t take care of themselves are euthanized, Downes said.

Kota’s fate rested in the hands of veterinarian Eric Anderson.

Under an agreement with the state, it was up to Anderson to determine if Kota’s injuries could be repaired and whether he could be released back into the wild.

As a state licensed rehabilitator, Best Friend’s Veterinary Center has worked with thousands of wild animals over three decades, Anderson said.

Anderson said that Kota’s case wasn’t simple. He said it appeared that the coyote was shot by a shotgun as he had three wounds, the worst being a missing section of his front jaw.

Downes and Anderson discussed how to proceed. The Olympic Game Farm agreed to take in the coyote if the surgery was successful and the animal lived.

“In this case, I thought it was repairable,” Anderson said of the jaw after looking at X-rays. “We did repair it. I think the outcome will probably be fair to good at this point in time.”

Anderson said he was surprised, yet mostly disappointed, by how domesticated Kota was.

He said the coyote is able to eat now.

“I think we’ve had a good end to what otherwise could have been a sad story for the coyote,” said

Best friends covered the cost of the surgery, said Anderson.

“I caution the public not to try to raise these animals.,” he said. It’s going to ultimately lead to their demise.”

Downes said he understands the most people are well-intentioned when they try to care for a wild animal. Still, he said, possession of a wild animal without the appropriate permits is a violation of state law and considered a gross misdemeanor, which could levy a fine up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to two years.

Horn said she was just following her motherly instincts in taking care of Kota and became attached. She said the coyote lived outdoors and would be gone for up to two weeks but always returned, especially when she called for him.

Horn said she plans to visit him in Sequim. She misses him terribly, catching herself staring out her window, expecting to see him.

“It’s going to be hard for me not to be there every week,” she said. “I’ll try to go about once a month.”

“The guy at Sequim says I can be in contact with him.

“It’s pretty hard to deal with. But as a comfort, I try to focus on what’s best for him. And the Olympic Game Farm will be best for him.”

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