Leftovers: Strange encounters

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Maybe it’s because I don’t own chickens that my curiosity was piqued instead of panicked by recent coyote sightings in Portland. 

Blurred pictures and fuzzy videos posted on social media by people I actually know made these majestic animals come to life in real time. While a welcome distraction for many, I do feel sympathy for those negatively impacted by the coyote’s menacing presence. 

Unlike the 2015 Westbrook commotion over a 10-foot anaconda adorably named Wessie, (as a nod to the legendary Scottish Loch Ness monster), coyote reports were the real deal. I know because I saw one this past Saturday, strutting across a shaded area of grass and trees behind my tiny condo in North Deering. 

Forget my friends’ out-of-focus pictures, this thing was massive and had a tail like nothing I’d seen outside of a taxidermy display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. (For the record, those creepy rooms full of stuffed small critters, dingoes, foxes, wolves, and yes, coyotes, with their lifelike glistening eyes, gave me nightmares throughout  middle school.)

But this isn’t middle school and my coyote encounter was not the first sighting in the complex. We were advised by property managers to call the city’s animal control officer if we felt threatened. Personally, I felt exhilarated. 

There has been news coverage of coyote sightings for years. More than one expert has emphatically said what perfectly normal, sober folks are seeing is a ginormous dog with a super bushy tail. Others have gone the scientific route and explained the difference between eastern and western coyotes, and when wolves and coydogs came on the scene.

It’s interesting stuff but the bottom line is Maine now has about 15,000 coyotes that have adapted to living in rural and urban areas.

One of the best parts of the story is that some of the wolf-dudes were nowhere in sight when the females were in heat, so the females of the pack hit on coyotes. Mainer coyotes are said to have 8 percent wolf DNA and the expectation is that the percentage will increase. 

As far as my own sighting, the wind was blown out of my Dora the Explorer sails when I read that most coyotes are slim, with long pointy snouts. The guy I saw was not slim, for sure. 

So what was it? My imagination has since gone to fun and freaky places. Maybe it’s a werewolf, or a wolfdog, or something else altogether.

What appears to be a coyote in the neighborhood near Cheverus High School in Portland on Friday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m. (Courtesy Dawna Hall)

Then I thought of the International Cryptozoology Museum at Thompson’s Point. 

According to Merriam-Webster.com, “Cryptozoology is the study and search for animals and especially legendary animals (such as Sasquatch) usually in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence.” 

The museum is owned by a gentleman named Loren Coleman, who has written more than 40 books on various subjects, mostly relating to the pseudoscience and subculture of cryptozoology. Unfortunately, I was unable to reach Coleman by phone; I may follow up on the werewolf theory since the full harvest moon arrives Oct. 1.

Neighbors using the Nextdoor app, meanwhile, are not convinced the Maine wildlife biologists featured in the news lately have it correct. While scrolling through the last few weeks of posts, there have been 22 cats reported missing and no shortage of comments blaming the mystery coyote. 

“I called the City of Portland Animal Control Office and couldn’t get anyone to call me back,” one Nextdoor user wrote. “I live in North Deering and my sister lives over by Deering High, and she’s seen this thing too. No way it’s a dog. And why are so many cats missing all of a sudden?”

Another user said, “Everyone can’t be crazy if so many people have spotted the coyote. Maybe they don’t want us to get alarmed, but I already am. My garbage was torn through like a cyclone hit it. We’ve had raccoons go at it, but nothing like this.”

Still another: “So far the coyotes haven’t hurt anyone aside from eating chickens and all the missing cats, but don’t you think they should take it seriously and tell people how to act if they see one? You’re not supposed to turn your back or run away.”

The Nextdoor comments, replies, and questions go on, as do the fuzzy pictures and new reports of seeing the bushy-tailed animal sauntering around more backyards and side streets. Interestingly enough, there was also a new post about a bobcat running through woods off Summit Street. The big cat sighting was confirmed by another surprised Portland Trails walker. 

Hopefully, the authorities will tell us someone’s full-sized Maine coon cat got out and there are no bobcats on the loose. I hate to think on top of everything we need to invite Carol Baskin of the Netflix series “Tiger King” to Maine.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at natalie@portlandphoenix.me.