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A field report
One hot afternoon in July, I visited the habitat of a creature without a real name, whom I will call Wile E. Wile E. is a tan, hollow-bodied plastic coyote with blue eyes, and he and a twin—whom I’ll also call Wile E., because I don’t know which is which—are on most days all that stand between the Brighton Campus practice fields and a local pack of Canada geese who avidly dine on grass and leave behind a rich garnish of consequences.
When I first spotted Wile E., he was defending the westernmost of the fields, just below St. John’s Seminary. I believe the grass was marked up for rugby, but if it had been marked for football, Wile E. would have been a wide-out on the 50 yard line, his shoulders down, his head up, and his nose pointed at Lake Street, 100 yards distant, where a man coasted downhill on a bicycle. Wile E.’s brushy tail was tilted left (it can also be rotated to up, down, and right positions), and his ears pointed forward (these, too, can be rotated). Wile E. did not move, of course, but he looked as though he might. Not a goose was visible on the ground or in the sky.
Wile E. is to some degree the descendant of Blaze and Tucker, English setters that Boston College acquired in the late 1990s, and who (along with their successors) have since been driving Branta canadensis from the practice facilities on Shea Field. Prior to the dogs’ arrival, the responsibility for clearing goose accrual—sometimes 200 pounds a day—fell to groundskeepers wielding a lawn sweeper and wearing raincoats. “The guys love Blaze and Tucker,” a grounds supervisor told Boston College Magazine in 2000.
But what works on fenced-in Shea Field, doesn’t work on the open, 65-acre Brighton campus, I was told by Domenic Pacitto. A groundskeeper, Pacitto has become one of the University’s two designated coyote handlers since “the dogs” (as he calls them) were purchased in April, setting the beasts out in early morning and bringing them in at the end of his shift. A voluble, broad-shouldered man with leanings toward irony, Pacitto, who previously worked for the archdiocese, recalls the arrival of geese on the property in the late 1980s. Sitting in his BC-issue pickup truck a few yards from where Wile E. contemplated Lake Street traffic, he mused, “They started on Chandler Pond”—a head nod to the west—”and then they moved to Rogers Park—a nod to the north—”then here.”
Soon after Pacitto and his partner began setting out the coyotes, however, the plague ended. “We haven’t had a goose on the property since the beginning of football camp, in the second week of June,” he said with satisfaction in late July. He said he and his partner, Jeff Pearson, thought about holding a naming contest for the creatures, but were concerned that publicity might be bad for the coyotes’ tenure. (Two coyotes purchased last spring disappeared during senior week in May. One turned up in the tent erected for the School of Theology and Ministry graduation ceremonies, like a baby left on the church steps. The other remains borrowed.)
A greater threat to the coyotes came from children at Boston Public’s Thomas A. Edison Junior High School, a K–8 establishment whose red-brick building overlooks the Brighton Campus playing fields. Like the geese, the schoolchildren were highly impressed by what they saw on the field one day. Animal control officers were summoned by teachers, but Wile E.—who suffers from seams where his haunches, chest, neck, and legs meet—lived to stand guard another day, when the wind blew hard and the children looked out their window and saw the coyote lying on his side. “The kids cried,” said Pacitto, shaking his head. “They thought it was a dead dog.” Boston College pulled the coyotes off duty until it completed an informational mailing to Brighton residents near the campus. That doesn’t keep some people from wondering, however. Recently, Pacitto said, he saw a woman standing on one of the campus roadways and staring at the stock-still coyote in the field. “Is that dog okay?” she asked Pacitto. “Sure,” he said, and walked up to Wile E. and knelt and poured water from a bottle into his cupped hand and brought it to the coyote’s snout. The woman moved off.
Read more by Ben Birnbaum