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Waterloo man fights to get pet coyote back from animal control

Few, if any, legal avenues in Iowa for possessing a live coyote

Matt Stokes and Drifter. (Courtesy of Matt Stokes)
Matt Stokes and Drifter. (Courtesy of Matt Stokes)
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He named the coyote living in his backyard Drifter, and for months the pup and Matthew Stokes were inseparable.

Until, the Waterloo man says, the coyote escaped his fenced backyard in late October and was picked up by a neighbor who contacted animal control.

Since then, Stokes, 55, has been pressuring state agencies and officials to return the young coyote to him.

“All they’re doing is abusing the poor animal, he’s not used to being in a pen,” Stokes said. “He was born from wild parents, but he was not wild. He’s been treated like a dog since he was 8 weeks old.”

Animal control authorities took Drifter, who Stokes said was born in a den in his backyard this spring, to Wildthunder Wildlife and Animal Rehabilitation center in Independence.

The coyote is living in a large outdoor pen at the center, Wildthunder founder Tracy Belle said, and is “showing promise for possible release” into the wild.

“We deal with people that are in illegal possession of wildlife every year,” Belle said when asked about Stokes’ case. “Everything from raccoons to possums to little birds to bunny rabbits, sometimes even squirrels. It’s nothing really new — his persistence is a little alarming.”

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Stokes has an online petition to get Drifter back. On Tuesday, after the Waterloo Courier reported his plight, it had more than 700 signatures.

Stokes said he bonded with the coyote while he was recovering from a bone infection.

“He was my only friend, we spent day and night together,” he said. “They think they’ll be able to rehabilitate him, but he’s too people-friendly.”

Stokes said he has a letter from his physician classifying Drifter as an emotional support animal.

But it’s illegal in Iowa to keep a coyote as a pet, and the canines fall under regulations governing dangerous animals.

There are few if any legal avenues for possessing a live coyote in the state, Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesman Alex Murphy said.

“The only way we would be able to regulate that is if he had a hunting and trapping license,” Murphy said. “Even if he did that — the purpose of the license is not to catch the animal and keep them at your home alive. ... We’ve, to my understanding, never dealt with and never heard anything like this before.”

Stokes said he took Drifter in as a pet after the coyote’s mother abandoned him in his backyard.

“Anyone who wouldn’t take care of a little animal and let him starve, I don’t have words for how terrible they’d be,” he said.

At Wildthunder, Belle said she doubts Stokes’ story — she believes he picked the animal up on the side of the road, and that Drifter frequently escaped his fenced-in yard — and urged anyone who comes in contact with an orphaned animal to contact a licensed rehabilitator.

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“Our No. 1 goal is to take in wild animals and get them back out in the wild,” she said.

To Stokes, Drifter’s release would be a death sentence.

“He could be so much more than a coat collar,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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