(Trends Wide) — A Massachusetts family was shocked to learn that a lost pup they rescued was actually a coyote pup.
The male cub was found “wandering and distressed” on the side of the road, according to a Facebook post from the Cape Wildlife Center. Concerned for his safety, the family picked up the puppy in their car. But soon after they realized that he might not be a dog after all.
“After realizing their confusion, they called us for help,” said the wildlife center, which is part of the New England Wildlife Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free veterinary care to about 5,000 animals a year.
Zack Mertz, executive director of Barnstable’s Cape Wildlife Center, told Trends Wide it’s not uncommon to see fox and coyote pups wandering around this time of year. The cubs are reaching the age where they begin to explore far from their families. It is unclear if this pup strayed too far from his family or if his mother was injured or dead.
Center staff “were able to quickly identify that it was a coyote, which was definitely at an age where it should have been with its parents,” Mertz said.
The puppy, believed to be between five and six weeks old, has been cleared for rabies and received the first round of vaccinations, Mertz said. The wildlife center will temporarily foster him alongside a three- to four-week-old female coyote pup that was recently transferred from the Rhode Island Wildlife Clinic.
Raising the pup alongside a surrogate sibling is crucial because of the social nature of coyotes, Mertz said.
“One of the best things to do for a puppy who has lost his family is to at least provide him with a sibling of a similar age,” he said. “That’s because if we do our job right, and stay out of it, that brother is going to be the model, and they can learn as much as they can from each other.”
He said staff at the center try to come into contact with coyotes as little as possible, so the canines don’t associate humans with food and maintain as natural an upbringing as possible. They also work to simulate coyotes’ natural environment by decorating their large enclosures “as naturally as possible” and providing them with food and climbing challenges that “help them practice the kinds of behaviors they would need” in the wild.
Staff plan to introduce the two cubs in a week’s time, when the female has grown a bit more. If all goes well, the two cubs will spend about six months at the center before being released into the wild in mid-autumn.
Mertz said anyone who sees a baby coyote or other animal alone in the wild should know its parents might be nearby, so contact a local wildlife department before intervening.
“We ask that you keep a safe distance and report what you see,” he said.