Kristen Kohary was hiking a trail at the end of North Benjamin Drive in Stateline, Nev., last week when her husband, John, noticed movement nearby.
It was 1 p.m., and the couple had been walking with Kohary’s dog — an 11-year-old Whippet named Sir Willie Great White Whippet Goode. The animal was standing by obediently when John had spotted a bushy tail.
“My husband said, ‘oh look, I think I just saw a fox,” she said.
What the hikers didn’t realize, at first, was that they were actually surrounded by a pack of coyotes, she said. When the coyotes finally did come out, Kohary didn’t have time to react. Willie, suddenly, gave chase.
For the next few minutes, Willie and about five or six coyotes chased each other on top of a ridge near the Tahoe Rim Trail, she said. They disappeared on the other side of hill before the couple caught up to them moments later.
“It was too late,” Kohary said. “They took him down and lured him to the other side and ripped him to shreds. We found them eating him. It was really horrific.”
Ben Sacks, a canine expert and UC Davis professor, said coyote attacks like these near the Tahoe Rim Trail are “extremely rare.” But just as surprising is the coyotes’ behavior of apparently eating Kohary’s dog.
“The fact that there were so many (coyotes) together would seem like they aren’t starving,” he said.
However, the coyotes could have been exerting normal territorial behavior by simply attacking the dog, Sacks said.
Another possibility is that they were bulking up for the winter season, said Chris Feldman, biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“Maybe they are getting more bold because they are getting more desperate,” he said. “I don’t know.”
What is clear is that coyotes in the Lake Tahoe area tend to move in numbers, he said, so attacks on pets aren’t unheard of.
“They are really smart animals,” he said, “and they do hunt cooperatively in packs.”
In large packs — which can consist of eight coyotes, at times — coyotes can take down prey as big as deer, Feldman said.
For this reason, Sacks suggests keeping dogs on a leash when possible, especially if they enjoy chasing wildlife.
Kohary said Willie wasn’t on a leash because he never ran off before. She believes her dog chased the coyotes because he was ultimately protecting her.
In response to his death, Kohary and Kenneth Goode — Willie’s second owner and main handler — posted pictures of their dog and the tale of his demise around the trail. Their hope, Goode said, is to create awareness about the dangers of coyotes in the area.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else anymore, man,” he said. “This is just terrible.”