The coyote sightings in NE Portland have many people fearing for the safety of their pets, small cats and dogs in particular. As the sightings–and warnings–proliferate, it’s hard not to “read” this feral animal story as a kind of metaphor for the general fear of predators that grips many American residential neighborhoods.
The parallels hit me yesterday, when I came home to find a “missing cat” flyer in my driveway. Although lost pet notices are commonplace, something about this one—“call if you’ve heard any unusual caterwauling”—seemed particularly ominous. Perhaps I was primed for the worst: the night before, a neighbor’s daughter had glimpsed, in the early a.m., a coyote scampering down the street. “Keep your cat indoors,” my neighbor warned darkly.
It all reminded me of the 2006 movie, Little Children starring Kate Winslet, in which a registered sex offender becomes a proxy for the anxieties of middle class life–anxieties about isolation in general but parenting in particular. As traditional family structures break down, pets are becoming the children of the 21st century, and, increasingly, they suffer from the same afflictions: hypervigilant “parents” and not enough independence of their own. Just now, as I sit typing, our cat, Jada, is lolling on the couch, fat and sedentary from overeating and spending too much time indoors.
In that context, the coyote is an urban predator for our time: a symbol of our disconnect from nature—domesticated pets hardly qualify– and a cover for deeper human deficiencies and desires.