While in high school, Shreve Stockton was voted “most likely to wake up in a strange place.” It is to our delight that this roamer discovered a place that could satisfy her wanderlust and inspire this engaging and unusual story, which is based on her blog of the same name. The book is written in an easy conversational style and illustrated with Stockton’s photographs; she has a good eye, and one can see how a daily posting about an adorable coyote would find a receptive audience on the web. The main storyline traces Charlie’s first year with Stockton and her cat Eli, an equally amazing animal and one the coyote seems to idolize.
In 2005, Stockton—a talented, successful urbanite with pluck, resourcefulness and determination to spare—left San Francisco and headed for New York. Traveling solo on a Vespa scooter, she made a 6,000-mile, two-month-long meandering cross-country trip. As she passed through Wyoming, she says, her heart felt “magnetized” by the state’s grandeur and isolation, and when she finally reached her destination, she couldn’t get the state’s vastness out of her head. She turned to the web, and one of her searches came up with a house for rent in the small town of Ten Sleep, Wyo. (population 300), which turns out to be the perfect place for Stockton. All of this happens within the first five pages of this enthralling book!
At the heart of the story is Charlie, a coyote given to Stockton by her boyfriend Mike when the pup is only a few days old. Mike is a professional hunter hired by the USDA to cull coyotes, a job that owes its existence to the “it’s us or them” attitude ranchers have about local predators. The pup that Mike cannot bring himself to kill turns out to be the gift that transforms Stockton’s life. However, she recognizes from the start that there might come a time when she would need to return Charlie to the wild, but she also knows that domestication could make this return impossible —which indeed was the case.
At first, Stockton sent daily emails to friends and family chronicling her life with Charlie and Eli. Then, an astute friend suggested she start blogging the appealing story and charging readers a small monthly fee to supplement the meager income she scraped together by working as a graphic designer, substitute teacher, cattle feeder, irrigation pipe layer and teleconferencing/video English tutor for Korean students. (See what I meant by resourceful?)
Stockton clearly and frequently brings up important cautionary notes about making a coyote into a pet—as well she should, given the complexities and challenges with which Charlie presented her. It is hoped that others will not be tempted to do the same. Nonetheless, many dog-loving readers will see resemblances between some of Charlie’s behavioral traits and other personality “issues” and those of their own dogs. I know that I did, and found many of her closely noted observations fascinating, such as Charlie’s habit of hiding bits of food in the nooks and crannies in the walls of the small log cabin they shared.
My other reservation is that, true to its blog origins, the book is a bit too revelatory about the personal lives of others, especially her boyfriend Mike, who seems to be a private and reserved person. I felt uneasy about this; I also felt that some of that narrative intruded on Charlie’s story—perhaps I was just eager for all I could get about the coyote. Ultimately, though, I came away with a deep appreciation for what the author has accomplished, and am pleased she decided to share her story with us.