“Facts and science are very important, but it is stories that move our hearts.” Chris Albert, 2014
“Katy is distracted and distracting to the class” was written on her report card. Katy was startled, and sad. She liked her teacher. She didn’t know why she was the way she was. She didn’t really know what to do about it. Though she was bright and energetic, it was mostly a show. The energy kept people from getting too close. Really she loved most to be alone, or at least alone with the animals of the farm.
Recently she had hung out in a shed by the barn and watched a coyote come by and hunt mice. Katy was enchanted. She brought an old chair out to the shed and would watch the farm animals – and the coyote – for hours. The coyote became a friend of sorts, not judging, just going about her life. Then one awful day, Katy’s brother, Andrew came sauntering into the house. “I just shot a coyote right by the barn,” he announced. Katy’s eyes widened in horror, “No!” she thought. “Not MY coyote, not MY friend.” But it was. Left in a heap like a piece of trash, her coyote was dead.
Katy sat by the beautiful beast and whispered. “I don’t know what to do.” She felt utterly lost, and sad. Katy’s family was surprised at this emotional outburst. They tried to help.
“Coyotes aren’t friends.” explained Dad. “Only humans can be friends.” Katy just looked at him, and realized quietly for the first time that he was wrong. Parents could sometimes be wrong. She had nothing to say. “I was scared of him…he was too close to the barn…he could hurt me or you or the livestock,” said Andrew. “It was a she,” Katy replied, “and she never hurt anything but mice and rats.” “It was just an animal,” her mother offered, and Katy didn’t say anything at all. Clearly her mother didn’t get it either. Katy took the body of the coyote in to the deep woods, laid her in a nice place, and cried some more. “I don’t know what to do,” she whispered.
Fortunately the world is not always ugly and awful. Sometimes there are tiny sparks of wonderfulness. There was one for Katy the very next day. Her old teacher, the one that had called her “distracted and distracting” had left, and there was a new teacher. The new teacher was teaching, but listening, too. Sometimes she talked about things not on the normal curriculum. One time it was predators. The teacher talked about predators differently from everyone else. She talked about how important they were. When the students wrote essays after class, Katy wasn’t distracted, or distracting. She concentrated and wrote her heart out about her friend, the coyote. Katy wrote about how she had watched the coyote kill mice. She wrote about how she was never scared, how the coyote felt like her friend, how she felt calm and good around the animal.
The teacher didn’t tell Katy that coyotes can’t be friends. She didn’t tell her it was just an animal. Instead the teacher came up to her when most of the class had gone. “Your essay was very moving,” she smiled. “There is an effort to stop coyote killing contests in our state and I would like to submit your essay.” “In fact”, she added, “I would love for you to come speak at the hearing. Would you like to do that? I can ask your parents.” Katy was thrilled, but remembered her family. “My family thinks it’s stupid to care about coyotes,” she answered.
“Would you come if you could?” the teacher asked. Katy nodded shyly.
In another moment of wonderfulness, the teacher worked her magic on Katy’s family. Maybe they didn’t care about coyotes, but they loved HER. They would let her submit her essay. They would even let her testify at the hearing. Katy worked hard rewriting her essay for her audience. She wrote a speech, too, and read it in front of the mirror. It could only be two minutes long. Her mama gave her some good pointers about not rushing, and looking at the audience, and smiling. The whole family came, and listened, and they were all proud. Much to Katy’s delight, the state passed a law that banned killing contests. People could still kill coyotes, but they couldn’t do it for “fun” and “rewards.” It was a small step, but Katy was thrilled.
That evening she went to the shed, to tell the spirit of her coyote what had happened. As she sat quietly, another coyote came out of the woods. It was so intently focused on the edge of the barn it didn’t even see her. Katy smiled as she watched him pounce and leave proudly with a fat mouse. Katy’s family had noticed that there had been many more mice and even rats since her friend had been killed.
Katy was different now, ready to share. She sneaked off and went to get her brother. “Andrew, please come with me” she asked nicely, excitement in her voice. “Don’t bring your gun,” she frowned. Andrew and Katy walked quietly out to the shed. She let him have the chair and sat on the ground. Soon the coyote came out again. Andrew tensed. He was scared! But he stayed put and watched. The coyote looked intently and pounced, and came up with another mouse. He flagged his tail high and took off proudly.
“Why are you scared?” Katy asked gently “I don’t know,” he answered. “Why aren’t you scared?” “I think I was at first, just a little bit,” she replied. “But I watched and watched and my friend…my first friend (no one corrected Katy now) became real. She was just hunting mice. There was nothing to be afraid of. If I moved too suddenly she would just run off.”
Andrew looked thoughtful. “It’s hard to get over fear. And lots of people tell us to be afraid,“ he pondered. “But I’ll try,” he grinned. Then, more seriously, “I won’t kill any more coyotes.”
About the author~ Chris Albert is a veterinarian working in Kentucky. He has always been a wolf and coyote advocate. Chris wrote this story to share with a second grade class after his presentation on predators. We are honoured to share his deeply moving story about compassion with you- our universal community.
Note from author: In November of 2014 the State of California banned predator killing contests. As of this writing they remain legal in all the other states.
Dedicated to Mrs. Lewis’ second grade class, Dec. 18 2014
Copyright 2014 Chris Albert, all rights reserved