Earlier this week, an image of a tiny dog in some kind of wild neon dog armor began to ricochet around the internet. A popular dog-rating Twitter account pronounced her coyote-proof. The comedian Andy Richter named the little pup the next host of the Academy Awards. Reddit challenged its users to Photoshop the spiky chihuahua into creative scenarios, sending her into the hands of the pin-faced villain from Hellraiser and under the sea as an anemone. The original photo has 97,000 likes and counting on Twitter.
Back home in Arizona, Beanie was just trying to go for a walk. The now-iconic dog is an 8-year-old chihuahua owned by a longtime friend of mine, the novelist Amina Akhtar. The two live in a remote area outside Sedona, Arizona, where the Sonoran Desert presents certain practical challenges to Beanie’s daily constitutional. “I have to watch out for the zoo outside my windows,” says Akhtar. “We have coyotes, bobcats, and javelinas, which are these weird, aggressive pig things. They’ll attack dogs, too.” Because Beanie only weighs a little over eight pounds, hawks picking her up and flying away are also a concern.
That’s what led Akhtar to buy the viral vest, which features a bright-pink Kevlar body, rows of metal spikes, and several sprays of neon-orange wire. “I had this moment of guilt after I moved back to Arizona from New York City,” she says. “I brought her here, and if anything happens to her, I’m going to feel really bad.” Some Googling led to a company called Coyote Vest, which was founded after its CEO, Paul Mott, lost his dog to a coyote attack in Southern California.
The vests start at $100 for spiked Kevlar. They come in a variety of colors and are somewhat modular: An LCD blinker, a bite-activated shock device, and “whiskers,” which are the sprays of wire that stand up on Beanie’s back in the famous photo, can be added for an additional cost. The vest was designed with coyote attacks in mind, but the manufacturer says it can also help ward off birds of prey and the giant dog down the street whose owners just let it run around the neighborhood. (There’s always one.)
Although Beanie’s protective outfit is decidedly modern, the idea of dressing dogs to ward off attacks has a long, cross-cultural lineage. The ancient Greeks invented the spiked collar to protect their hunting companions from wolf attacks. Today, many Anatolian shepherd dogs in Turkey are equipped with spiked metal collars to protect themselves while they protect livestock. Similar devices are used on working dogs in Italy, Spain, and some parts of the United States. Unfortunately, those don’t come in a variety of fashionable colors.
These attack-prevention methods have historically been used on dogs that guard livestock in remote areas, where they’re in danger from wild predators. But shifting coyote habitats have brought some of those same threats to much more populated areas, according to Stanley Gehrt, an urban-coyote researcher at Ohio State University. “Coyotes have been common in residential areas for a while now,” Gehrt says. “In the last 10 years, they’ve increased dramatically in almost all major cities.”
Still, he says, the threat to pets is very low in most places, and you can do some proven-effective things to safeguard your pet for free, if you’re worried. “In the cases where people do know they have coyotes using their yards, they need to keep a close watch on their dogs and try to haze coyotes when they see them,” Gehrt explains. You can wave your arms at the coyote, yell, and make yourself look bigger and more aggressive to define your yard as your territory. The worst thing you can do? Run back into your house, says Gehrt. “Over time, when you do that, coyotes learn they can make people disappear.”
Akhtar, to her credit, has some instinctual experience with coyote hazing. “Normally, Beanie stays close to me, but this one time, she was about 20 feet away, not wearing her vest. I looked up, and there’s a coyote like 12 feet from her,” she says. Beanie was bounding toward the coyote, ready to make a new friend. “I swear, I didn’t know I would do this, but I charged the coyote. Which was probably really stupid, but all I could think of was, Must save Beanie.” The good news is that, by Gehrt’s logic, this wasn’t stupid at all. All parties came out of the encounter unscathed.
Through some simple behavioral tactics (and, if you want, some viral dog armor), coyotes, humans, and pets can coexist peacefully. “We’re all encroaching on animals’ property, on their territories,” says Akhtar. “So you can’t begrudge them. I don’t hate the coyotes; I just don’t want them to eat my dog.” She’s similarly understanding of the thousands of online strangers who have found Beanie’s outfit so funny. “If this brings joy to people ... then by all means, Photoshop my dog into Mad Max.”